Exchanging Truth for a Lie

The Pan-Amazonian Plan to Eliminate God, the Church, and Salvation

Now that the Pan-Amazon Synod is over in Rome, we should not be surprised at the strange and unsettling things that we are seeing and hearing in relation to it. The Pre-Synodal Instrumentum Laboris (hereafter IL) forewarned us quite candidly about the revolutionary direction the synod would take. In this essay, we will examine how it did so by looking, first, at the IL’s presentation of the native Amazonian “cosmovision,” and then at the bearing that this worldview has on three areas, namely, the Catholic Church, revelation and faith, and the identity and mission of Jesus Christ. By way of conclusion, I will recall and reflect on some of the main points that we will have covered, and I will also indicate what would ultimately be at stake if the Pan-Amazonian plan were ever to be fully implemented.

The Cosmic Vision of the Indigenous Amazonian Tribes

According to the IL, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon have an integral view of reality that encompasses human beings, life, territorial environment, ecology, and unseen spiritual forces. The Church and the world must therefore learn from them, before their idyllic, native way of life is ruined by the intrusion of Western culture, and by the Catholic doctrines and practices beholden to it.

The indigenous cosmic scheme sees human beings as “part of nature because we are water, air, earth and life of the environment created by God” (17). But this is not a simple case of materialistic reductionism, because in the native Amazonian worldview, “the material and spiritual dimensions cannot be disconnected” (13). This governing principle of indigenous life is reflected in the peoples’ “beliefs and rites regarding the actions of spirits, of the many-named divinity acting with and in the territory, with and in relation to nature” (25). Infused, as they are, with these “various spiritual forces” (13), trees and fish are really our brothers, and the flowers, birds, insects, larvae, and fungi are really our sisters (30).

It follows that “Mother Earth” in general, or the Amazon jungle in particular, is a living being — indeed, a personal (or multi-personal) being, since nature is endowed with rights (51), which pertain properly only to persons. “Good living,” therefore, means living in harmony with each other, with our territory, and with the creatures with whom we share it, since we are all connected by a divine-spiritual bond (12-13).

As a personal reality, nature bleeds and cries when abused. Abuse has been inflicted by the dominating neo-colonialist powers, which have imposed Western cultural, political, and economic models on the Amazon territory (17–18, 76, 103). “To abuse nature is to abuse the ancestors, the brothers and sisters, creation and the Creator” (26). By “Creator,” the IL can mean the “God Father-Mother Creator” (121), who becomes incarnate in the caresses of “soil, water, mountains: everything” (19). Given that the cosmos is thus shot through with divinity, we can understand why the IL tends to exhibit a “preferential option” for the poor earth, whose ecological plight it seems so often to place ahead of, or at least to identify with, the needs of the poor people it purports to represent.

Lost in the IL is the truth that the value of a single human being is incalculably greater, in God’s sight, than that of the earth, or of the universe itself, and that there are different grades of being among the creatures of the world, resulting in a hierarchy of value discernable to the human intellect. Instead, the IL levels the cosmic playing field completely, giving the false impression that all beings have fundamentally the same value.

We see this also in the IL’s concept of a salvific life, a “life full of God” (11). Here, the document is referring to the happy life manifest in the biological and cultural “diversity” of the Amazon, where the people, together with nature, sing a hymn to life, while dancing for joy. With the studied ambiguity that has become the touchstone of ecclesiastical output these days, the IL tells us that an integral life filled with such joyful effusions “represents divinity and our relationship with it.” In itself, this statement can be understood in an orthodox sense; however, we have seen that the IL is alluding to “the many-named divinity,” to the “spirits,” acting with and in nature (25).

At the very least, then, the document is extolling the animistic beliefs — the “cosmovision” — of the indigenous peoples, who see and dialogue with “the various spiritual forces” at work in nature, community life, and culture (13, 75). Because this vision does not properly distinguish between the material and the spiritual world, the IL has placed itself at the edge of pantheism, to say the least. As a result, its depiction of the Amazon’s “manifold expression of life” as “a mosaic of God” should give us pause (22).

The IL would have us believe that the indigenous Amazonian peoples are living in close harmony with “the supreme being” (12), fundamentally untouched by the consequences of original sin (such as concupiscence and the weakening of the intellect, now prone to err in both mundane and spiritual matters). This leaves us with the impression that for centuries prior to Western colonization and, with it, the arrival of European Christianity, the Amazonians were living blissfully, blamelessly, and harmoniously, communing “integrally” with one another and with nature and its “spirits.” Singing and dancing to the songs they learned from the rivers, life was just one big, festive celebration. We can picture the people skipping happily along eating berries — but not each other.

Cannibalism, fornication, adultery, polygamy, sodomy, incest, rape, superstition, sorcery, domestic and intertribal violence, human sacrifice — to these and other evils, the native tribes, as depicted in the IL, seem to have been wholly immune, never mind historical evidence to the contrary. Sadly, the IL leaves us wondering whether we can even consider these practices as evil at all. In the context of the whole — particularly given its embrace of cultural relativism, and its understanding of “pastoral sensitivity” and “pastoral conversion” (reflecting that of Amoris Laetitia) — the document can easily be taken to suggest that certain grave sins are merely manifestations of bio-social and cultural “diversity,” and not of moral perversity.

The Church in the IL

In fact, when one completes IL, it seems that the only sins of concern in this document are colonialism, neocolonialism, and a patriarchal mentality. On account of these, Western culture and structures have been imposed on indigenous Amazonian peoples deemed savage, or primitive, by greedy outsiders (76, 103, 117). These Western intruders have threatened the bio-social and cultural diversity of life in the Amazon. In the IL’s estimation, the Church has been complicit in this, having failed to appreciate the Amazonian peoples and their worldviews, while siding with the dominant powers (38, 111).

It seems, then, that the Church has, till now, managed to do little good for the indigenous tribes. She has consistently failed to broaden her own worldview by undergoing a thorough process of dialogical inculturation, which would have entailed learning indigenous languages and integrating indigenous wisdom, myths, cosmologies, religions, songs, dances, and stories into her own religious outlook and experience. Catholic missionaries must now redress this wrong, recognizing that they have nothing to offer by way of their own culture, education, and experience. Rather, they must “unlearn” all of these, as they immerse themselves in their adoptive culture (129 d, 3). Only then can they expect to help build “a Church with an indigenous and Amazonian face” (116).

What is more, the Catholic Church is called to a process of conversion to an integral ecology that recognizes the importance of the ecosystems to human life and relationships. This explains, above all else, why she must assimilate the “ancestral experience, cosmologies, spiritualities and theologies of the indigenous peoples in terms of care for our common home” (50). Salvaging indigenous myths and updating, or “inculturating,” community rites and celebrations will contribute to the process of ecological conversion (104 h). In addition, the Church must listen to the family songs of the native peoples, as these are expressions of prophecy in the Amazonian world (79 b).

Clearly, then, IL wants to make clear that the Church has much to unlearn, as she discovers her identity through encounter with the original Amazonian peoples, learning and relearning from their wisdom and contemplation on our interconnectedness with the biome (40, 102). By inculturating the Gospel, based on her intercultural dialogue with the indigenous tribes amid the biological, religious, and cultural diversity of the Amazon region, the Church can look forward to a new Pentecost (30), as she takes on an Amazonian face. At the same time, she must abandon ideologies “hidden behind certain petrified doctrines” (38), which “reserve salvation exclusively for one’s own creed” (39). Only then will she come to appreciate other “pathways” to God, while ceasing with her efforts to apply “a monolithic body of doctrine” to “a pluri-ethnic, pluri-cultural, and pluri-religious world” (36, 110).

Once the Church has discarded “rigid [doctrinal, moral, and disciplinary] positions that do not take sufficient account of the concrete life of the people and the pastoral reality,” she will be able “to meet the real needs of indigenous peoples and cultures” (119 d; italics added). Since the native peoples of the Amazon “have a pronounced sense of community, equality and solidarity” (127), moreover, the Church should “rethink” her organizational structure (135 d), so as to “recreate ministries appropriate to this historical moment” (43).

IL Proposals for the Church’s Amazonian Facelift

Among other things, the Church’s governing, judicial, and sacramental authority could be shared, on a rotational basis, with persons other than those who have received the sacrament Holy Orders (127). Official ministries could be conferred on women (129 a, 3), and women could be given guaranteed leadership and decision-making opportunities, with the hope that the Church adopts an increasingly feminine way of acting, and of interpreting events (129 c, 2–4). Changes could also be made in the criteria for selecting and preparing ministers authorized to celebrate the Eucharist (126 c). Perhaps older indigenous people (including women?) could be ordained to the priesthood, even if they are already married and have a family (129 a, 2).

As regards the Church’s liturgy and sacraments, these must be inculturated by incorporating into them “the rites, symbols, and styles of celebration of indigenous cultures in contact with nature” (126 a). In this way, the celebration of the faith will become “an expression of one’s own religious experience and a bond of communion in the celebrating community” (125). With that in mind, the IL encourages the Amazonian Episcopal Conferences to “adapt the Eucharistic ritual to their cultures” (126 d). The recent trend toward “a ‘sound decentralization’ of the Church” would presumably place this action within the competence of the regional bishops. Father Francisco Taborda, SJ, a Brazilian priest and theologian, has suggested, as a possibility, that yuca, a common Latin American staple food, replace wheat as the matter used for the bread consecrated during Mass. This would be more practical for the native peoples, and also more meaningful to them symbolically.

The Eucharist, together with the other inculturated sacraments, “should be a source of life and a remedy accessible to all” (126 b), bar no one (79 d, ii). This requires “a pastoral sensitivity that accompanies and integrates” (126, b), as opposed to “the rigidity of a discipline that excludes and alienates.” Having the largest possible number of people participating in these culturally reconfigured sacramental rites certainly seems to make good sense, when we consider that “indigenous rituals and ceremonies are essential for integral health”; that is, “they create harmony and balance between human beings and the cosmos,” thus curing diseases and protecting from evils (87). It follows that the more people involved, the more efficacious the sacraments will be. While it is easy to imagine how sacramental rites inculturated according to indigenous ways of life might have a cohesive effect on the local community, it is a little hard to understand how these custom-made, invalid sacraments would conduce to the unity of the Church as a whole.

The IL responds that the reality of the local Amazonian churches requires “a welcoming Church hospitable to cultural, social, and ecological diversity,” so that it can “serve individuals or groups without discrimination” (112). The Church must recognize, as the IL’s authors seem to, that “the Creator Spirit . . . is the one that has nurtured the spirituality of these peoples for centuries” (120), even before the Gospel was ever proclaimed to them. That same Spirit moves them to accept the Gospel according to their own cultural and traditional ways of life and understanding. This demands the conclusion that the Church must adopt, as her supreme principle for establishing universal ecclesial unity, the willingness to embrace bio-social, religious, and cultural diversity. It is only by an exchange of experiential wisdom through intercultural dialogue, followed by the inculturation of her beliefs and practices, that the Church grows in the truth and discovers who she is.

Accordingly, the IL urges the Church to become a “Samaritan Church” (43, 5). By this designation, the document signifies, not just a Church that goes out to help those in need (115; Lk 10:25–36), but also one whose own, true religion has become adulterated (the IL would say “enriched”) by the (false) religious beliefs of others, as was the case with the partly Hebrew Samaritans of old (see Jn 4:20–22, which IL 36 conveniently ignores). The IL is therefore advocating for religious syncretism, expecting that the Church should paganize the faith and the sacraments that she has received personally from Jesus Christ, true God and true man, through the Apostles. This process of paganization — together with its implicit denial that the man Jesus is Himself truly God — is supposed to make the Church’s patrimony relevant to everyone.

This is consistent with the IL’s denying, explicitly and acerbically, that the Church is the guardian of an unchanging, universally applicable deposit of faith (110). It also entails denying that she possesses and dispenses the vehicles of grace by which one enters and deepens one’s personal communion with God Himself. Instead, the IL’s primary concern is to articulate the Church’s role in saving the environment from neo-colonialist exploitation, and in restoring pagan culture — becoming pagan herself in the process. That the Church has a divine commission to save souls from eternal damnation, and that she has been divinely constituted for this purpose, is not even on the IL’s radar screen.

The IL’s Ecological Diversion

Even as we grant the seriousness of reckless, self-interested attacks on environmental life, the IL mentions certain situations that, being more directly personal, reasonable minds recognize as far more grave and urgent: sexual exploitation, human trafficking, drug trafficking and consumption, and cultural conflicts (73). But what solutions does the document propose for these and other social ills, which are now taking such an immediate and incalculably huge human toll? Among other things, it suggests that we: “promote environmental awareness, recycling of garbage, and avoidance of burning; promote a system of environmental sanitation and universal access to health; create spaces for interaction between the wisdom of the indigenous . . . peoples in urban settings and the wisdom of the urban population” (74). The utter blindness, inanity, and callousness of the IL’s authors here is simply beyond belief.

It may be true that “attacks against [ecological] life in the Amazon territory” cause “serious problems” (44), such as the destruction of land, deforestation, and pollution (46). But heeding the IL’s call for “an integral ecological conversion” through intercultural dialogue with the aboriginal communities is not going to solve these problems (49). At best, it would merely divert our attention from their root cause. Attacks of the ecological kind, or any other, issue from hearts unconverted to God.

At the same time, the fact that some people do not perpetrate ecological or certain other kinds of serious abuse does not necessarily signify that their hearts are converted to God. This seems lost on the IL’s authors, who seem to identify an ecologically sensitive heart with a godly heart — a heart attuned to the “revelation,” or “epiphany,” of God in nature (19). Again, this suggests a pantheistic outlook.

Revelation and Faith in the IL

Every once in a while, the IL throws us an orthodox-sounding bone, such as “Jesus is the fullness of all revelation” (11). In the context of Dei Verbum, no. 2, from which this quotation is taken, “revelation” refers specifically to biblical revelation, to God’s making known to us in history, by words and deeds, “the hidden purpose of His will,” namely, that we should become partakers in the divine nature through Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. This is the call and the salvation of every human being. Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is the eternal Mediator and fulfillment of this revelation. In Him, the eternal Father has left nothing unsaid. No one is saved except through Him, the eternal Son of the Father.

In revealing Himself to us historically, God has interpreted Himself for us infallibly, for He can neither deceive nor be deceived (Vatican I, Dei Filius, 3). Since Christ’s coming, the Church preserves and elaborates on that revelation by means of the divinely inspired Scriptures, sacred Tradition, and the Church’s extraordinary or ordinary — and — universal magisterium, guided by the Holy Spirit. Everything pertaining to this revelation, and to the process by which it is preserved, interpreted, and transmitted, is therefore supernatural.

When it comes to the “Book of Nature” (that is, to the testimony of creation), however, human beings interpret (or intuit) God through the things He has made. This is, indeed, possible to a modest extent, for “the heavens proclaim the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1). In other words, creation is a sort of revelation, by which we make deductions about God as the Ultimate Cause of the effect. The process of interpretation is, in this case, grounded naturally in the human intellect. But without the corrective of the Church’s teaching (based on Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium), human beings will invariably fall short or err when they use unaided reason to interpret God, themselves, the world, and the relations between them. This is true especially because the human intellect has become weakened by the fall and clouded by personal sin (Wis 13:1–9; Rom 1:20–25).

Concupiscence and sin incline us to rebel against inconvenient truths, especially those concerning the meaning, the purpose, and the moral boundaries of human nature and its faculties. In turn, our war on truth invites our misinterpreting both God, the Author of human nature, and our relationship with Him. Or it might lead to disbelief in God altogether. The IL takes none of this into account in its indiscriminate exaltation of indigenous belief and practice.

What is more, the IL tells us that the Amazon, or some other indigenous or communal territory, is “a particular source of God’s revelation,” an “epiphanic” place offering “life and wisdom for the planet” (19). This rather grandiose description blurs the radical distinction between natural and supernatural revelation, and possibly also that between God and His creation, as we have seen elsewhere in the document. Equally murky is the description of the epiphanic territory as “a place of meaning for faith or the experience of God in history.” Taken together with similar texts, we can be confident that we are dealing here with a Modernist understanding of revelation and faith.

In line with Modernism, the IL is suggesting that the “revelation” of God takes place immanently in human beings, as the coming — to — consciousness of a natural, subconscious religious impulse that has been stimulated by the experience of a given people in a given territory. Their “wisdom” and way of life represents the collective interpretation and expression of that experience. As such, it can change over time, as their changing life-experiences provide the occasion for a new interior “revelation.” The way they experience God today in their life can therefore contradict the way they experienced Him yesterday. But the IL, in true Modernist fashion, seems always to regard such an “evolution” as progress in the “truth” of one’s religious experience — that is, as a raising of religious consciousness, or a “development of doctrine,” if you will.

Alternatively, external sources of truth, with which one comes into contact through exposure to the concrete expression of other people’s inner religious experience, can help confirm believers in their religious differences, which, thanks to interreligious dialogue, serve as a stimulus for them to go on believing what they already believe anyway (136). In the IL’s Modernist scheme, objective truth is nonexistent, for the locus of “truth” is one’s own, subjective experience. Accordingly, people can have conflicting, yet equally valid truths.

Heterogeneous religious experiences can also be adapted as necessary to fit into the faith experience one already has. The IL’s enthusiasm for the intercultural sharing of collective wisdoms can therefore be taken as an invitation to fine-tune one’s inner religious sense, or “faith,” by exposure to other people’s “truth.” Thus, faith must be inculturated, so that it becomes “an expression of one’s own religious experience” (125; italics added).

It follows that indigenous peoples need not abandon their pagan signs and symbols if they wish to become Catholic. Instead, the IL proposes their using these to dress up the liturgy, which would become lifeless and obsolete without such inculturating adaptations (124). Similarly, catechists can put the inspired Word of God aside and instruct their charges using “narratives” deemed to be in harmony with it, culled from the “age-old wisdom” of pagan belief (123 c). After all, it was “the Spirit of the Lord” who taught, or revealed to, the indigenous people what they know about faith and life (121). In consequence, they should be allowed to reinterpret Christian truth according to their own, specifically Amazonian religious experience.

Bishops and “evangelizers” can therefore glory in the “creativity” by which they adapt the liturgy, along with the faith it is meant to communicate, to suit the tastes and beliefs that “converts” already have to begin with. Indeed, we have seen that the IL regards cultural diversity as the supreme expression of the Church’s universality, and so it is this — and not sharing in the same faith, moral, sacramental, and liturgical life — that constitutes her principle of unity (110, 124). The IL suggests, further, that the mere fact of the Church’s taking on other cultures redeems them (113), as though they had no need of correction, purification, and elevation in the order of grace, so as to reflect and conduce to Christian perfection.

Locating beliefs about God in interior “revelations” about the meaning of one’s concrete, life experiences immunizes them from being questioned or refuted by anyone else. Only “petrified doctrine” — a pejorative allusion to the absolute truth claims of Catholic Christianity — must be rejected, since “truth,” and the knowledge of it, are always evolving, and so can never be known absolutely. The Abu Dhabi Declaration that Pope Francis signed onto with a Muslim leader, which states that God wills the pluralism and diversity of religions, presupposes this kind of religious relativism, giving the IL’s authors carte blanche to promote it. (In stating also that God wills the pluralism and diversity of “sex,” and that “each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression, and action,” the declaration will likewise give ecclesial voices promoting “sexual diversity,” as the IL does covertly, the “official” justification they need push their destructive agenda further.)

The IL’s position, then, is that the Catholic Church does not, after all, have in her possession a definitive, unchanging deposit of faith that everyone must believe (and live by), on the authority of God Himself, who has revealed it publicly, in human history, for the sake of human salvation. In turn, it follows that there can be no, one religious faith that can serve as the measure and interpreter of all human experience and, more particularly, of all religious experience. Faith then reduces to my experience, or to that of my group — in other words, to how I or we interpret life and the surrounding world. In that case, the Church has no business trying to “impose” her own faith experience on indigenous Amazonian peoples (or anyone else). Rather, she must humble herself and “recognize indigenous spirituality as a source of riches for the Christian experience” (123 b; italics added).

The IL is talking specifically here about native pagan spirituality (see 123 a), as though there were some sort of parity between the non-Christian spiritual experience and that of the Christian. But it is impossible for the former to be a source of enrichment for the latter, since the natural and the tainted cannot enrich the supernatural in the order of grace.

Through sanctifying grace, the Christian participates in the life and love of the Holy Trinity itself, placing that individual in an intimate, personal relationship with each of the three divine Persons. Along with this relationship, established in baptism, God infuses the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity into the soul. These, together with other sacramental and special graces, elevate Christian life and action to the level of God Himself, our supernatural end. Indigenous spirituality is, at best, a reflection of the natural, sometimes hidden aspiration toward this same end, born of the longing for eternal life and blessedness that God has implanted in every human heart. At worst, indigenous spirituality expresses a relationship and a cooperation with demons.

Jesus Christ and His Mission in the IL

The IL has relatively few references to Jesus Christ — mostly token and tendentious — and a near absence of anything concerning what He has actually revealed, promised, and accomplished for us. It is unsurprising, then, that we are left with a thoroughly subversive document clad infrequently, and then only scantily, in Christian garb.

The IL’s Modernist understanding of revelation and faith cuts right to the heart of the Catholic faith, or true religion, allowing the authors of the document to bolster the status of pagan belief and practice, or false religion. At the same time, they relativize all religion. There is only one possible explanation for their taking this position: the IL’s authors do not believe that Jesus Christ is God — not in the true and unqualified sense, at least.

The IL’s Modernistic Take on Jesus of Nazareth

The document’s authors make a point of telling us that “Jesus became incarnate in a particular culture” (108). It would perhaps have been a little more reassuring if they had said, more precisely, that the eternal Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, became incarnate in a particular culture. But let us grant the truth of their statement as it stands.

The problem is, the IL’s authors understand the statement in Modernistically, which is a way of denying that the teaching, the institutions, and the promises we received from Jesus Christ are transcultural, eternally valid, and intended for everyone, hence not subject to change or to interpretations contrary to the Church’s perennial understanding. As we have seen, this denial paves the way for the IL’s completely undermining the Church’s deposit of faith, her moral teaching, her sacraments, her liturgy, and her divine constitution. For it would mean that the “experience” Jesus of Nazareth had of God, however intense it might have been, and however exemplary for Christians it might still be, was nevertheless culturally and historically conditioned, hence partial and somewhat myopic. We have therefore to look to the experiences that other peoples have of God in order to fill in the picture and approach the full truth about God more closely.

We know, for example, that Jesus “experienced” God as “Father” and referred to Him as such. We cannot fault Him for that, as this experience would have been dictated by the categories of thought and expression available to Him in His particular religious-cultural milieu. On the other hand, the “Spirit of the Lord” — and there is no telling how the IL understands this designation — has taught the indigenous peoples of the Amazon to have “faith in the God Father-Mother Creator” (121), since their time, place and culture made them more open to experiencing God thus. Since the Spirit taught them more than He did Jesus, their “truth” helps us arrive at a fuller “truth” about God.

We have no basis for questioning this indigenous “truth,” for the Spirit of God “revealed” it to them interiorly, by illuminating the meaning of their concrete experience of life in communion with “Mother Nature.” Their “faith” experience is therefore beyond the scrutiny of others. Instead, we all need to dialogue with and learn from them. This is especially true of Catholics, so that our stodgy old doctrines can “evolve” further toward the whole truth, or even reverse course, if necessary, should we encounter contradictory, but more enlightened, Amazonian “truths.”

Of course, if Jesus did not know God fully, then He cannot Himself be God; therefore, we can say that He is “the fullness of all revelation” in only a subjective and relative sense, pertaining to Christian belief only. If Jesus is not God, moreover, He would not have been immune to error. This would explain how the IL can depict the “Spirit” as teaching different peoples things contrary to, and irreconcilable with, what Jesus taught. The document suggests that the Spirit teaches diverse populations the meaning of their life in novel ways particular to them, within the context of their own historical, cultural, and ecological setting. By undermining thus the universality of Christ’s truth, the IL effectively denies the existence of objective religious truth altogether, banishing Jesus from the Godhead and dissolving the Holy Trinity at the same time.

So, on the one hand, Christians take Jesus of Nazareth’s experience of God as fundamental to their way of expressing their own religious experience. This would explain the single instance in which the IL employs the trinitarian formula (115), while not implying thereby that the document regards the formula’s meaning as definitively true.

On the other hand, Christians must recognize “other avenues/pathways that seek to decipher the inexhaustible mystery of God” (39), rather than presuming to think that everyone else’s salvation hinges on God as Christian’s understand Him in their own creed. Accordingly, the IL asserts that “love lived in any religion pleases God.” Ironically, an absolute assertion such as this would seem at odds with the relativistic, Modernist position that the document advances — except when we consider its meaning in Modernist terms: any and every personal experience of God and of love is valid, precisely as an experience.

In view of this, we must surely not underestimate the direction of the IL’s insistence that the Church be open and welcoming to biological, social, religious, and cultural diversities; for hidden therein is the rationale for pressuring the Church to accept expressions of “love” contrary to her perennial moral teaching. This, in turn, would require her to accept a new “understanding” of God Himself, so as to justify her doing so. The IL is well invested in bringing this about, through its unabashed promotion of pagan belief and practice, beneath the fig leaf of “inculturated Christianity.” While those promoting such a travesty would dismiss these and other radical changes to the Catholic faith merely as “doctrinal developments,” its real source resides, not so much in religious relativism, as in atheism.

As the IL must alter the truth about God to achieve its nefarious ends, so must it alter the truth about Christ, as we have seen. It seems that the only thing Jesus got right, from the IL’s point of view, was His dialogical and inclusive approach to other people, as exemplified in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (36; Jn 4:1–42). Never mind that this is the only extended example of this type in the Gospels. The IL has recognized its paradigmatic significance and seized on it.

The problem here is that the document has failed to seize on other significant things, such as the fact that Jesus spent most of His time, not listening, but teaching. Indeed, His dialogue with the Samaritan woman was simply the method by which He taught her that He is the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

Jesus has also been known to issue some pretty unconditional commandments, beginning with “repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). Here, He is as much as telling us, “Do this or die in your sins,” not, “Let’s open this option up for discussion.”

Jesus could be not only undialogical, but also rather exclusive. Just ask the Pharisees (Mt 23:13-36). He taught us that the attitude we take toward Him will determine whether He will be inclusive or exclusive, dialogical or undialogical: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21). And the Father’s will is that we are to believe in the One whom He has sent, His eternally begotten Son (Jn 6:29). In a word, Jesus Christ is Himself the criterion of our definitive inclusion in, or exclusion from, the kingdom of heaven, precisely because Jesus is God, eternally consubstantial with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Two things follow from this, relative to our present discussion. First, Jesus’s revelation of His Heavenly Father as Father is complete and definitive, contrary to what the IL’s authors would have us believe. Second, Jesus’s commandments, teachings, and, above all, the example of His self-sacrificial life and death, reveal the concrete and definitive content of love. Any departure from what He has thus revealed is therefore contrary to love, the radical rejection of which is tantamount to rejecting Christ Himself, thus resulting in one’s exclusion from the kingdom of God.

The IL on the Kingdom of God

The kingdom that Jesus announced, and to which He is “the Way,” is a divine reality. It refers to our sharing in the very Life and Love of God through union with the Person of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church is the sign and instrument of God’s kingdom, present seminally in her. We possess the kingdom when we possess Christ through the life of grace in the Spirit, by which we become children of the Father. As members of Christ’s Body, the intimacy of our union with Him is such that Jesus describes its perfect fulfillment as a wedding feast (Mt 22:2), and John as the marriage of the Lamb (Rev 19:7).

This marriage begins in baptism and is continuous with, and “consummated” in, the beatific vision of God in eternal glory. It bestows on us the abundant life that Jesus offers everyone (Jn 10:10), and that is available only in and through Him, acting in and with His Church. In the present life, we manifest our citizenry in God’s kingdom — the fact that God reigns in our hearts through His tri-personal presence therein — by our covenantal fidelity to Him. This entails our reflecting His righteousness here and now, through the righteousness of our relations with one another, in the love and joy of the Holy Spirit.

In contrast, consider how the IL’s authors understand the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is identified with a series of causes, encompassing political, economic, social, cultural, and ecological relations (37). It demands a response that includes “denouncing sinful situations, structures of death, violence and internal and external injustices, and fostering intercultural, interreligious and ecumenical dialogue” (11). Dialogue is the key to resolving the “great questions of humanity,” for its purpose is to foster a social and cultural pact in which people agree to live together, and no one is excluded (37). Justice demands that we affirm and promote cultural, social, religious, and ecological otherness (another word for “diversity”). From the IL’s point of view, then, the causes of justice and otherness are identical with the causes of the kingdom of God.

We must therefore follow the example of the indigenous Amazonian people by establishing a cosmic and inclusive harmony connecting us with one another, with nature, and with God. In this way, “we can forge a project full of life” (12). Having life abundantly — that is, living contentedly with otherness — is the result. Accordingly, the IL envisions the kingdom of God as an earthly utopia that we usher in through dialogue.

In order to take up the causes of the kingdom and to help usher it in, the Church must rethink her mission. She must make herself “present in the social, political, economic, cultural and ecological life” of the indigenous Amazonian peoples (112). Catholics should therefore support men and women religious who, offering their lives in service to the most impoverished and excluded peoples, become political activists, so as “to transform reality” (129 d, 2). What is more, the Church should meet with representatives of other religions, so as to collaborate with them on caring for the earth and securing the common good in the face of external aggressions (139 a). This means “rejecting a monoculturalist, clericalist and colonial tradition that imposes itself” (110, 119 b), and embracing cultural diversity fearlessly. We can take all this as a mission model that the Church in the Amazon is offering to the Church universal.

Nowhere, it seems, does the IL envision the Church’s mission as one of bringing souls to the Father, through His divine Son, in the grace of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere does it evince any awareness of the essential nature of the kingdom of God, which begins with that very grace — that is, with the sanctification by which we participate in the divine Life, and which is mediated to us through the Church’s sacraments, as instituted and bequeathed to her by Christ, for the eternal salvation of souls.

While sanctifying grace, together with other gracious gifts of the Spirit, does bear fruit in righteous living and in the human institutions built on it, the IL virtually identifies the “life full of God” that Jesus offers with a vibrant, “integral” life in this world. This so-called life full of God manifests itself not just in human life, but also in that of every biological entity, all viewed together within their ecological context (11). Here, as elsewhere, the IL’s blurring of God’s life with worldly forms of life has undeniably pantheistic overtones.

The document’s failure to identify the abundant life that Jesus won for us, through the paschal mystery, with our participation in the very Life and Love of God, can only reinforce suspicions about its Christology, or about whether it has anything left of a Christology. When we recall that the IL’s anthropology seems unable to distinguish brother tree and sister fungus from Mr. and Mrs. Jones, we are, alas, justified in concluding that the God-Man, as the document presents Him, has also, like man himself, been rendered extinct.

Conclusion

It should be unequivocally clear from the exposition above — by no means exhaustive — that if much of the Pan-Amazon Instrumentum Laboris were to be implemented fully, we are looking at nothing less than the distortion, if not the destruction, of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. The Church’s divinely revealed doctrine and moral precepts, the ecclesial discipline that derives from and testifies to these, the Church’s divinely instituted sacraments, liturgy, and structure — all of these the IL would forsake in favor of an “inculturated” Christianity with an Amazonian face.

More accurately, the IL seems hell-bent on inducing indigenous Amazonian Catholics to return to indigenous pagan idolatry — to the practice of worshiping demons and doing evil under their deadly influence — but now wearing a flimsy, Christian guise. This guise will prove useful in seducing Amazonian Catholics to apostatize.

The IL positively bristles at the idea that the culture of the original Western colonialists, informed though it was by Catholic Christianity, could have been in any way superior or beneficial to indigenous, Amazonian culture. The Modernist authors of the IL seem wholly unmoved by the fact that the Christian sensibilities of some colonial civil authorities impelled them to curb indigenous sexual perversion and savagery, in that way complementing the work of the Catholic missions. The cultural and moral relativism of the document’s authors precludes their making any meaningful judgments against indigenous life and practice. Instead, they encourage the view that indigenous ways, though perhaps unsettling to others, are merely reflections of a vigorous bio-social and cultural diversity. Absolute judgments about cultural and moral failings are therefore valid only against the original Western colonialists, and now the neo-colonialists, with whom the IL deems dialogue to be quite impossible.

The IL has higher hopes for the Catholic Church, however. Through intercultural dialogue with indigenous Amazonian peoples, she can “unlearn” her divinely given identity — inseparable though it is from her divine mission of upholding human dignity and saving souls — so as to discover herself anew by adopting the pagan ways of life and worship historically intertwined with indigenous Amazonian culture. Never mind that this inculturated form of “Christianity” will guarantee, among its practitioners, a widespread return to the bloody and perverse, demonically instigated practices that were once interwoven so seamlessly into the fabric of indigenous Amazonian life.

Notice how, in the IL’s vision of “dialogue” with indigenous culture, the Church is the only one that has to listen: “Respectful listening . . . does not impose formulations of faith expressed with other [i.e., Western] cultural referents that do not respond to [the people’s] lived reality” (120). Now notice the inherent contradiction: cross-cultural understanding and assimilation can happen in one direction (that of the Church) but not the other (that of the native Amazonians). Though personal human nature is the source of culture and transcends it, the IL implies that truth, understood as a cultural expression of personal experience, is unintelligible and irrelevant when clothed in cultural categories foreign to a given people; therefore, the Gospel must always be translated to accord with one’s own culturally conditioned experience.

This is to deny the possibility of cultural transcendence, of expanding one’s own categories of thought and expression by assimilating those of others, so that one’s own culture can improve. While the IL insists that the Gospel must be endlessly force fit into the cultural comfort zone of every people, thus ensuring its free fall into irrelevance, the document boasts, at the same time, that the new Amazonian Church it proposes will have something to teach the whole world. This means that Amazonian expressions of faith are universally comprehensible and applicable, while Western or other expressions of faith are not.

Its inherent contradictions aside, the IL’s vision of “dialogue” is utopian in an almost Teilhardian way. Different cultures and religions are supposed to share their multiplicity of “truths” about life, so as to synthesize them into a larger, unifying truth. In accordance with the law of evolution, such voluntary mutual encounter will enable humanity to progress toward psychic unity, or unity of consciousness.

What is more, the indigenous Amazonian way of life has specially equipped the natives to teach everyone else that dialogue takes place not only with people of other cultures, but also with nature, that is, with matter imbued with “spirit.” Engaging in such dialogue will get everyone in closer touch with nature, so that we all become more ecologically conscious. Dialogue with the aboriginal Amazonians and, following their example, with nature will thus lead to a global, ecologically enlightened meeting of minds. This global vision can then supplant an individualistic and nationalistic mentality and way of life. With everyone thus on the same page, all will agree, for example, that “responsible” contraception or sterilization is necessary to reduce populations, and so, too, the carbon footprint left by human activity, which is the “indisputably proven” cause of “climate change” and other environmental disasters.

Obstinate individuals, groups, and nations that refuse to comply voluntarily with such efforts to ensure the good of our common home will have to be forced to do so — in the case of nations, by a supranational body of enforcers. We would be sadly mistaken to think that the IL’s inherently godless cosmovision would not lead inexorably to such tyranny, and worse besides.

Only the Catholic Church, insofar as she is true to her divine mandate, stands in the way of this radical agenda. That is why the IL argues for a thoroughgoing, and thoroughly corrupting, “inculturation” of the faith. The furious determination of its advocates might well portend widespread success in this regard.

Of course, the Church’s Bridegroom will not allow His Bride to perish completely. But in order to expose the ultimately demonic instigation behind the effort to take her down, let us pose the following question: What if this effort were to succeed?

The answer is simple, stark, and unequivocal: no one would be saved. Absent the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, every human being in the world would be damned. This is the ultimate meaning behind the ancient dictum, “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus”: Outside the Church there is no salvation (Catechism, 846). Accordingly, the total annihilation of the Catholic Church would be Satan’s dearest goal, were it possible. Short of his achieving that end, the next best thing he can do is to incite his human collaborators to erect counterfeit churches, such as the one proposed by the IL.

It is true that Jesus Christ alone is the universal Savior of the World, the one and only Mediator between God and man (1 Tm 2:5). It is also true that He offers His grace in and through His Spirit even beyond the visible boundaries of the Church. At the same time, however, He does not ever do so apart from the Church, the Bride with whom He, the divine Bridegroom, is indissolubly united (Mt 28:20; Eph 5:31–32; Dominus Iesus, 16–17, 20–22).

Since Christ has willed to act always in and through His Church, it follows that whoever is saved by His grace must either be fully a member of the Church, in imperfect communion with her (minimally, through valid Christian baptism), or in some way related to and tending toward her by favorably responding to graces received mysteriously through her, in a way known only to God.

In a word, God has established the Church as the universal sacrament and instrument of salvation (Lumen Gentium, 9, 17, 48). She will therefore endure beyond any internal or external crisis that men, in willful collaboration with the devil, can contrive. While we must not underestimate the damage and confusion that they will cause, clarity will finally come out of it, as the Church’s enemies become more bold and reckless, blind and godless, in their destructive rage. In the end, they will expose their own deceits for all to see, and be hoist in their own petard.

Perhaps we can take the Amazonian darkness that now seems to be enveloping the whole Church as a sign that her sins, and those of the whole world, have finally come home to roost. While the Lord might yet will to intervene and abruptly foil the carefully devised plan presented in the IL, He might just as well will to leave us seemingly to ourselves for a time, allowing the plan to unfold to the extent that He permits.

Whatever may come, faithful Catholics must trust unreservedly in Jesus Christ, whose ways and invincible power are beyond human comprehension. He will act when and how He pleases, always with an eye (or seven eyes) toward bringing about the greatest possible good, especially for His Bride, the Holy Catholic Church. In her, the faithful must always remain, while also defending her by their prayers, fasting, holiness of life, and intrepid witness to divinely revealed truth.

As for the poor souls behind the Pan-Amazonian pandemonium that seems to be breaking loose in the Church, their efforts will prove, in the end, to have been sheer vanity. They are merely chasing after the wind.

Jeffrey Tranzillo About Jeffrey Tranzillo

Jeffrey Tranzillo earned his doctorate in theology at the Catholic University of America. Several of his essays have appeared in HPR and Crisis Magazine, and he posts others on his own website, trulycatholicmatters.com. He is the author of John Paul II on the Vulnerable, published by CUA Press.

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