Not afraid to call a spade a spade, and deeply grounded in the Scriptures and the fathers of the Church, the scrappy and erudite Cardinal Giacomo Biffi has done it again. When his last book was published, we wrote Cardinal Biffi’s Bombshell. With his recent publication of Pecore e Pastori (Sheep and Shepherds), the good Cardinal has proven that there is more shock and awe left in his arsenal, and he’s delivered the ordinance right on target.
Let us begin with some of the heavy artillery. Concerning modern popular sexual morality — including the matter of homosexuality — can the reader imagine a more direct, frank, and offensive-to-the-vanguard statement as the following?
Our age is dominated and afflicted by a sort of pansexualsim. Sex is constantly brought up: not only in social and psychological statements, not only in the many expressions of art and culture, not only in performances and entertainment; even in advertising messages, it is impossible not to evoke it and allude to it.
We sometimes get the impression that we have been influenced and taken in by a mysterious cabal of maniacs who are imposing their own degenerate mentality on everyone else. They are the same ones who never fail to call bigots and prudes those who are not convinced by their lofty arguments. And with their tenacity and their industriousness, they unintentionally reach the sad goal of an objective comicalness. (Our gratitude to Sandro Magister for the translations.)
That this was said by a Cardinal of the Roman Church, and an Archbishop, albeit a retired one, makes it all the more gratifying to read. Cardinal Biffi knows he is going against the grain, but he is quite aware that this is what Jesus did, and that bishops and priests are called to imitate the “Sign of contradiction.” To accommodate the foolish standards of this world, is worthy of this censure from the retired Archbishop of Bologna:
Sometimes, in some areas of the Catholic world, people even come to the point of thinking that divine Revelation must adapt itself to the current mentality in order to be credible, instead of the current mentality converting in the light that comes to us from on high. And yet one must reflect on the fact that it is ‘conversion’, and not ‘adaptation’, that is the evangelical term.
Anything I have ever read by the Cardinal has left me with the conviction that this is a grave man with a lofty supernatural outlook. A pastor and not a politician, he refrains from the all-too-common temptation to view ecclesial realities according to the “art of the possible.” Rather, he sees that the Good Shepherd calls upon us to do what is not naturally possible, but is achievable only with His supernatural help.
This supernatural outlook is instanced by the Cardinal’s considerations of Our Lord’s divinity. He clearly rejects the new Christology. During the theological revolution of the 60’s, a popular vogue was “Christology from below,” that is, a novel approach which stressed Our Lord’s humanity, often to the point of denying his divinity. For the liberal adherents of this novelty, Christ is the man who became divine, and the Gospel is an elevated human wisdom subject to human scrutiny and development. All is man-centered.
Seeing the perversity in this order of things, the Cardinal has come to the radical conclusion that the Council of Nicea’s condemnation of Arianism is more relevant today than Vatican II:
As paradoxical as this statement may seem, the Arian question is always the order of the day in ecclesial life. The pretexts can be many: from the desire to feel that Christ is closer and is more one of us, to the proposal of making it easier to understand him by exalting almost exclusively his social and humanitarian aspects. In the end, the result is always that of stripping the Redeemer of man of his radical uniqueness, and classifying him as someone who can be managed and domesticated. In this regard, it could be said that the Council of Nicaea is much more relevant today than Vatican Council II.
There is doubtless a connection between the way the author of Sheep and Shepherds views the challenge of the Gospel and the way he views the central Figure of the Gospel. Both come from on high; both challenge us; both elevate us above our nature. In one passage, Cardinal Biffi speaks of revelation being the “light from on high” that shines upon us to illumine our darkened minds and “convert” us. That light comes to us from the Eternal Word, God Himself, who said “I am from above” (John 8:23). He came “down” in order to elevate us to the divinity. In other words, God became man and clothed His Wisdom in the human language of the Gospel so that we might become divine. Such is Christianity, and such is not liberalism.
In his review, Sandro Magister reproduces an entire chapter of the book, a chapter is entitled, “The Challenge of Chastity.” As we would expect from the foregoing, Cardinal Biffi’s approach is steeped in the elevated doctrine of Holy Scripture. I will conclude with a section dealing with one of the more signal problems of the day. It needs no further comment.
The question of homosexuality
Regarding today’s emerging problem of homosexuality, according to the Christian conception there must be a distinction between the respect that is always due to persons, which involves the rejection of any social and political marginalization (with the exception of the unalterable nature of marriage and the family), and the necessary repudiation of any exalted ideology of homosexuality.
The word of God — as we know it in a page of the letter to the Romans by the apostle Paul — even offers us a theological interpretation of the phenomenon of the rampant ideological and cultural aberration in this area: this aberration, it is affirmed, is at the same time the proof and the result of the exclusion of God from collective attention and social life, and of the refusal to give him due praise.
The exclusion of the Creator leads to the complete derailment of reason:
“They became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21-22).
As a result of this intellectual blindness, both theory and behavior have fallen into complete dissoluteness:
“Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies” (Romans 1:24).
And in order to prevent any misunderstanding or any convenient interpretation, the Apostle continues with a striking analysis, formulated in perfectly explicit terms:
“Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper” (Romans 1:26-28).
In fact, Saint Paul is careful to observe that extreme abjection occurs when “they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).
It is a page of the inspired Book that no human authority can force us to censor. Nor are we allowed, if we want to be faithful to the word of God, the pusillanimity of passing over it in silence out of concern of appearing “politically incorrect.”
We must instead point out the singular relevance of this teaching of divine Revelation: what St. Paul identified in the culture of the Greco-Roman world prophetically demonstrates its correspondence with what has taken place in Western culture in recent centuries: the exclusion of the Creator — to the point of proclaiming grotesquely that “God is dead” — has had the consequence, almost as an inevitable punishment, of the spread of an aberrant sexual ideology, with an arrogance unknown to previous times.