Yesterday, you'll recall, I blogged about the strange signals coming out of the Vatican of Pope Francis I, with the huge caveat that trying to read these particular tea leaves is the most hazardous high octane speculation of them all. We are, after all, outsiders peering into the world's oldest political chancery and biggest pile of inter-generational equity, not to mention the most fantastic claims about itself: infallibility ex consensu ecclesiae, immediate and supreme jurisdiction, and so on. Some would argue that we're outsiders staring into the world oldest political chicanery, and biggest pile inter-generational of hypocrisy. Either way, the fantastic claims remain in both points of view, and it is with these that we are concerned today.
But this requires a little more background, for the claims of that office are universal.
It may come as a surprise but at one time, cardinals were not archbishops with the right of being papal electors, but rather, were the deacons - the lowest rung in the ranks of the hierarchy - of the suburbican dioceses of Italy and more importantly, Rome itself. These cardinal-deacons were the "hinges" on which the papal policy functioned, the levers that made it work, for they were effectively in charge of the papal bureaucracy. Over time, the term "cardinalus" (hinge) was applied to higher ranks of clergy, and eventually became the now-familiar cardinal-archbishops of the papal church. As the term was applied to higher ranks of clergy, something else also happened: the geographical circle expanded. The cardinal-deacons were drawn from Rome and Italy, but the cardinal-archbishops from wherever in the world the papal church went. The cardinalate became more international, until the progress was arrested in the late middle ages until very recently, when it was heavily stacked to insure that an Italian would become pope. Beginning with John XXIII in the 20th century, however, the cardinalate again became more heavily packed by genuinely international representatives, and the result has been the first election in modern times of three popes - John-Paul II, Benediect XVI, and Francis I - who were not Italian, and now with Francis I, another first: a pope who is not even European.
Thus, in one sense, Francis represents the culmination of a deliberate policy that the "world's oldest political chancery" set into motion during Vatican II and the pontificate of John XXIII, namely, the transformation of the papacy itself back into its medieval version of a truly international, and not merely an Italian, office. It was the surest signal that the papacy meant to be a political player on the world stage, for while perhaps not able to return to the heady days of Boniface VIII and his very explicit statement of papal claims in Unam Sanctam that is is "altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff," John-Paul II could, and did, threaten to return to his native Poland during the final days of the Warsaw Pact, and "be with his people" should the Soviet Union invade.
Its bluff called, the Soviet Union backed down, the Communist government in Poland unraveled, beginning a process of the crackup of the Warsaw pact that eventually led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. It wasn't just the Reagan administration, Star wars, and covert ops that undid the Communist empire, it was the papacy, riding a tide of world revulsion at the Soviet system. It was the papacy of Pius XII, too, that had requested American "help" in defeating the Italian Communists in the 1948 elections, and it was Pius XII's Vatican Bank that laundered the CIA funds that did the trick. Italy remained within the western camp.
None of this, of course, has been lost on the Russians.
Which brings us to the present.
Yesterday I point out that there were three things to look at:
"Francis is making other interesting moves, such as:
"(1) calling for "more decentralization", i.e., less papal, and more episcopal, power:
"(2) criticizing "capitalism," which isn't surprising coming from the papacy; it's done it before, and often (think only of John XXIII or Paul VI, even John-Paul II). What's new here is the context(which we'll get back to):
"(3) Seeing Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is both old and new in a sense (and we'll get back to that too):
Now I contend that these things are all part of the same long-term internationalization that began during Vatican II, and that these three things must be viewed as a whole to see exactly what the long term possibilities are, as the papacy perhaps sees them.
Let's take Francis' encyclical on money first, and point out what I believe to be its central passage, and what he's really saying, for popes talking about the evils of capitalism, consumerism, and so on, are nothing new. But this is:
"While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits(Ed note: Think Boniface VIII and Unam Sanctam here). In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule." (emphasis added).
Now, read only the italicized parts, and the real target is clear:
"This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules...which have taken on worldwide dimensions." (Emphases and deletions added)
The papacy, which has its own unique universal sovereign claims, is thus singling out its major competitor, with its own unique "sovereign vision", namely, the unrepentant and rampant financial speculation that so marks the financial system of the City of London, Wall Street, in short, the Western financial system. Francis may have been more accurate had he not said "of the marketplace and financial speculation(note, there is only one preposition here, however, indicating that in his mind, the marketplace and financial speculation are of a piece). He might better have written "of the marketplace of financial speculation." I believe it is conceivable that the real target here is thus not capitalism nor the right of people to the profits of their own industry and property (which recent popes have also defended), but the crony big corporate crapitalism and high frequency trading that have divorced the marketplace of financial securities from any real productivity or representation of equity value. By taking aim at the "mercantilism by machine" that Western crapitalism has become, Francis is also subtly and coyly also taking aim at the transhumanist and inhuman machine that western culture is quickly reducing to, and, as we shall see tomorrow, he means to re-evangelize it.
Now enter President Putin, who has been saying essentially the same thing. Now, Russian heads of state visiting Roman popes is also a comparatively new thing, though this isn't the confrontations of a John-Paul II and Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko, or even Mikhail Gorbachev, for now there is more agreement than disagreement. For one thing, Putin is not a Communist. He's a Russian nationalist and, one might even go so far as to say, a crypto-autocrat of all the Russias. One thing he is not is sympathetic to the Western-placed looters of his country(if anyone is going to loot Russia, let it be Russians). Note however, in addition to a converging view of the western financial system and the increasing imbalances between rich and fast-disappearing middle classes, there is also a cultural and geopolitical convergence:
"In the afternoon of Monday 25 November 2013, the President of the Russian Federation, His Excellency Mr. Vladimir Putin, was received in audience by the Holy Father Francis. Mr. Putin subsequently went on to meet with the Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who was accompanied by the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
"During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations, and the Parties focused on various questions of common interest, especially in relation to the life of the Catholic community in Russia, revealing the fundamental contribution of Christianity in society. In this context, mention was made of the critical situation faced by Christians in some regions of the world, as well as the defence of and promotion of values regarding the dignity of the person, and the protection of human life and the family.
"Furthermore, special attention was paid to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and the grave situation in Syria, with reference to which President Putin expressed thanks for the letter addressed to him by the Holy Father on the occasion of the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg. Emphasis was placed on the urgency of the need to bring an end to the violence and to ensure necessary humanitarian assistance for the population, as well as to promote concrete initiatives for a peaceful solution to the conflict, favouring negotiation and involving the various ethnic and religious groups, recognising their essential role in society."(emphases added)
Now for some time I have been pointing out that one should watch for and expect a reassertion on the part of Russian leaders of the traditional role of Russia as protector of Orthodox Christian populations not only in Eastern Europe but elsewhere, and especially in the Middle East. Significantly, there are also large populations of Eastern Rite Catholics (Roman Catholics who use the Orthodox ritual) in the Middle East, and Syria is one such country where both the papacy and Russia have cultural interests as a result, interests not represented - to say the least! - by the USA's and the West's sponsorship of radical Islamist rebels in that country. The last paragraph of this article is thus a warning: the papacy is against the current radical agenda of the Anglo-sphere, both financially, and geopolitically. And with Mr. Putin, it has more powerful backing.
The last thing the west can afford is a papal-Russian rapprochement...
...but to see what that might portend, we must wait until tomorrow.
See you on the flip side.