The Pope’s discourses, as those of his predecessors and many other Catholic clergy, are impenetrable because of unnecessary complexity.

Why, for heaven’s sake, talk to the faithful and enquirers in such a way?

Make Christianity easy to understand and a joy to embrace!

The other day, I wrote about the Anglican Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, who suffers from the same affectation. Complex words can disguise a host of theological errors!

Today’s post concerns Pope Francis quoting G K Chesterton. How many translations did that go through?

I happened upon the Catholic site Crisis Magazine whilst trying to source a Chesterton quote Chartres used.

I didn’t succeed but found Catholic complaints about the clergy’s (and Chesterton’s!) use of language. Frankly, that’s been happening since John Paul II. Have a look at some of the essays and books he wrote for the faithful. They are impossible to understand.

First to the comment on Chesterton and the ‘smarty-pants’ intelligentsia’s use of language. This from Julia B (emphases mine):

Most of the working class folks in my area couldn’t care less about Chesterton or Teilard or even John Allen – that all bores them and they turn off. They are sincere about living their faith – more than the smarty-pants atheist ex-Catholic seminarians I know. It isn’t necessarily the smartest people who will get to heaven. I need to remind myself of Flannery O’Connor’s people whom she took very seriously.

Further downthread, she writes:

None of the blue collar people I know have ever heard of him.
Maybe it’s where I live. I grew up in East St Louis Illinois and now live in the town next-door where people are still overwhelmingly blue collar Democrats – union members or their children. We did that “Catholicism” series by Fr Baron at our parish and folks who attended thought it was boring and too difficult to understand.

Later, reader Redfish makes an excellent point:

Chesterton was speaking to a certain understanding of language, which was fine to make his points clear, which he did, but its also a certain understanding of language that ultimately formed the foundation of postmodernism, which ran wild with it and took it to its logical conclusions.

Well said, Redfish.

Frankly, I’d rather read Flannery O’Connor than Chesterton, and I have a degree in English. But that’s just my perspective. Your results might differ.

Evangelising depends on making the point clear and comprehensible for the reader. After we explain it, there should be very few, if any, questions afterward.

But do clergy care about using simple language? This is what Dr Timothy J Williams had to say about the Pope’s discourses:

The real question is, is it wise to listen to this Pontiff talk about anything? Wading through his labyrinthine comments in a desperate, good-willed search for orthodoxy is at best an arduous and discouraging activity.

Now onto the Pope quoting Chesterton. He said the following during a Mass in December 2013 during Mass at the Church of St Martha in Rome:

Isaiah says: “Have trust in the Lord always, for God is an eternal rock!” The rock is Jesus Christ! The rock is our Lord! A word is powerful, it gives life, it can go forward, it can withstand attacks, if this word has its roots in Jesus Christ. A Christian word that does not have its vital roots is a Christian word without Christ. And Christian words without Christ deceive. An English writer, once talking about heresies, said that a heresy is a truth, a word, that has gone mad. When Christian words are without Christ, they begin to go by the way of madness.

Hmm, okay.

The Italian newspaper citing the quote said it came from G K Chesterton. Dale Ahlquist, who wrote the post for Crisis Magazine explains:

… it didn’t quite sound right. But we have to keep in mind that this is an English translation of an Italian transcription of a spoken homily by someone who is giving an off-the-cuff Italian translation of a text he is quoting from memory of a Spanish translation of an English text that he never read in English. It is possible that something was lost—or even added—in translation.

Ahlquist goes on to cite two more Chesterton quotes which might have been those which the Pope had in mind.

I much prefer the quote from St Thomas More which Ahlquist uses. That explains heresy so much better and in far fewer words:

Never was there a heretic who spoke all false,’ said the great Sir Thomas More” (New Witness, April 4, 1919).

A heretic always states part of the truth. Otherwise, false and damning teaching would not appeal to so many.

It’s a pity that more clergy of all denominations don’t bother to adopt Sir Thomas More’s plain speaking.

In closing, one of Crisis Magazine‘s readers, Marcelus, points out that Benedict XVI’s thoughts about the future of the Catholic Church are similar to what Bishop Chartres thinks about the Church of England:

… did you know [‘P]ope Benedict called the charismatic “the future of the church” or something of that sort? …

An ill wind is blowing. Stick to a good Bible translation and a good Bible commentary. Get the truth. It’s out there and not far from you.