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Is the Pope a Marxist?

by Greg Krehbiel on 3 December 2013

I read yesterday that Rush Limbaugh has accused the pope of being a Marxist. I didn’t think too much of that until I read this.

What The Pope Gets Wrong About Capitalism (Hint: Just about everything)

It’s a very good article. It immediately reminded me of two other responses to past papal teachings.

Bill Buckley famously dissented from Pope John XXIII’s economic and political pronouncements, saying “Mater si, Magistra no” (which I believe is “mother yes, teacher no”). See Pope Francis takes on ‘trickle-down’ economics.

More recently in First Things, Robert Bork had some interesting comments about the church’s expertise with reference to the death penalty.

“My difficulty has to do with the Church adopting positions that may be taken to be binding on public affairs when it has no special, or sometimes even an adequate, understanding of the subject. If the Pope or the bishops express opinions on such matters, that is certainly their right. But they should be owed no particular deference, either by Catholics or others.”

I discussed that here.

Most of you know that the current “official” teaching is that the pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals — which almost never happens. Exactly when Catholics are supposed to defer to the pope’s opinions (whether or not they are infallible) is a much more complicated question.

It’s very interesting to listen to Catholics discuss that question. There’s a lot to it, but when it comes down to brass tacks it amounts to this: when the pope says something I like, you must defer to him. Otherwise not.

Years ago I did a relatively lengthy study of this issue. Part of that study involved reading a couple books full of documents on papal authority from back in the 10th to 13th centuries. Some were by the popes themselves, while others were by papal defenders. It was clear to me that the popes in those days thought their farts were infallible, and anybody spouting the modern teaching would have been treated as a heretic. (Sorry. Channeling dear Brother Martin for a moment there.)

Claims to papal infallibility and authority weakened a bit over the ensuing centuries, but I’m sure Pius IX (of “I am tradition” fame) would also have mocked and scorned the light-weight version of infallibility and authority we hear from the church today.

IOW, how much deference Catholics are supposed to pay to the pope has been on the decline for a thousand years or more, and isn’t very clear at all — even among people who try very hard to follow church teachings.

Anyway, I don’t know if Francis is a Marxist or not. The more relevant question is, “Why would it matter either way?”

And lest anybody think I’m just ragging on the pope, I’m not. I actually think there’s a lot to like about him. This, for example. Is Pope Francis Leaving Vatican At Night To Minister To Homeless?

-- 2013-12-03  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 11

  1. Dave Krehbiel Dave Krehbiel
    3 December 2013 @ 10:05 am

    I think it is important to draw a distinction between encouraging people to offer direct assistance one to another, and forcing them to provide resources against their will, indirectly, through their government.

  2. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    3 December 2013 @ 10:47 am

    Yes, that is an important distinction. People who want to read Marxism into the Bible frequently appeal to passages like Acts 4:32, but conveniently forget Acts 5:4.

  3. smitemouth
    3 December 2013 @ 12:13 pm

    Unless the Pope has become an atheist, I don’t think he can be a Marxist. Limbaugh’s either on the oxycontin again, or he he needs to start taking it again.

  4. DSM
    3 December 2013 @ 5:23 pm

    @smitemouth: why not? There are lots of people who have what are basically textbook Marxist approaches to economics in terms of analysis of the class struggle who take their faith seriously.

    “Marxist” seems as good a word as any to describe them, although like any word it applies better in some cases than others, and there may be inconsistencies in their views that they tend to ignore. Doesn’t make them much different from the rest of us, really.

  5. smitemouth
    5 December 2013 @ 11:44 pm

    The rich exist for the sake of the poor. The poor exist for the salvation of the rich.~St. John Chrysostom

    I’m sure Limbaugh would say that Chrysostom was a Marxist even though he lived 1400 years before Marx was born.

    What amazes me is that people find Limbaugh relevant–both right and left. On the left, mostly because they can’t believe the right find him so. I mean, the guy is an entertainer, not a news man. He’s good at feeding red meat quotes to his grotesque audience, but he’s really not capable of any in depth understanding. If you want to talk about economics, I’m sure Greg’s brother John could destroy him.

    Francis is not the first pope to have criticized capitalism. If your God is money and capitalism as it is to Rush (well, maybe he worships the guy in the mirror more), then all you can do is demonize your supposed opponent even if he’s just reiterating some Roman Catholic social teaching.

  6. DSM
    6 December 2013 @ 1:27 am

    Huh? What does any of that have to do with whether or not only atheists can be Marxists?

    As for economics, John is on record as saying he doesn’t understand economics and isn’t convinced anyone else knows anything either, and far be it from me to disagree.

  7. Robin R.
    6 December 2013 @ 5:46 am

    Why can’t a theist or even a Christian accept Marxist theses about economics and history on the one hand and reject his atheism on the other? I don’t see any logical connection there.

  8. smitemouth
    13 December 2013 @ 9:16 pm

    Well, probably unlike Limbaugh, DSM, maybe GK, or anyone else commenting, I actually went and read the encyclical. I can’t say I found anything Marxist in it , and certainly not anything “pure” Marxist. After all, the big fat drug addict accused the pope of “pure Marxism”–not the watered down kind, but the pure, 100% unadulterated kind of Marxism.

    The Pope made the unshocking observation that trickle down economics really doesn’t help the poor that much and that the gulf between the rich and poor has only grown larger. He says we should do better. He quotes saints and Jesus. He didn’t give a detailed plan, didn’t call for revolution, or write anything Marxist. But evidently, that is “pure Marxism.” Oh well.

    I have no problem believing that JK knows more about any topic than Limbaugh except maybe broadcasting, football, and scoring Oxy. And, at least JK is wise enough to admit what he doesn’t know instead of being the all knowing Maharushi.

  9. DSM
    14 December 2013 @ 10:00 am

    @smitemouth: what are you talking about?

    I didn’t understand your claim that only atheists could be Marxists, because it seemed to me non-atheists could be Marxists too, and remarked on that.

    You quoted Chrysostom, insulted Limbaugh a bit, praised John’s economics understanding, mentioned past papal criticism of capitalism, and then insulted Limbaugh again.

    I asked what that had to do with only atheists being Marxists.

    Your reply was to read an encyclical, criticize Limbaugh’s description of it as “pure Marxism”, reference the papal history of criticisms of capitalism, praise JK again this time not because of his grasp of economics but because of his intellectual modesty, and insult Limbaugh again.

    I’m still not sure what any of that has to do with only atheists being Marxists.

    The Catholic guys at NR were split on whether it was wrongheaded or just poorly worded, so I figured it was at least arguable either way. I haven’t read the encyclical at all, which — as you may have missed — is the reason I haven’t said anything about it one way or another. If you’d like to ramble on the subject of papal economics, I’m fine with being your audience, of course.

  10. smitemouth
    14 December 2013 @ 4:25 pm

    Well, let’s try this analogy. Evidently I’m too stupid for metaphors when I think they are overblown…oh well.

    About 400 AD, St. John Chrysostom says he loves apple pies. 16 centuries later, Pope Francis says he likes apple pies and quotes Chrysostom about the flaky crust and hint of nutmeg. 14 centuries after Chrysostom, Marx too says he likes apple pie. It just logically follows that Francis is a Marxist because he likes apple pie.

    I still contend you can’t be a “pure” Marxist and be a Christian. It’s like saying you can be a pure Christian and be a Hindu too. Maybe you disagree. At this point I’m done and don’t give a rip.

  11. DSM
    14 December 2013 @ 6:13 pm

    “I still contend you can’t be a “pure” Marxist and be a Christian.”

    Still? You never once “contended” that you can’t be a pure Marxist and a Christian. You simply asserted “Unless the Pope has become an atheist, I don’t think he can be a Marxist”, and then gave reasons for thinking that nothing the Pope said made him a Marxist. I suspect that’s actually true, and the Pope is not a Marxist, which is why I never said otherwise.

    Instead I asked you about the thing you actually *did* say, which you managed to write many paragraphs without addressing. I admit that tends not to work so well where you’re involved, in my experience, but despair is sin against hope.

    Hope you’re enjoying Advent!