Editor's note: I had never heard of "kenosis theology" before reading Fr. Collins' article, but it sounds like one more liberal word game to take a legitimate term and pervert its meaning to fit a "progressive" agenda. Those who resist the liberal agenda, they say, are ignorant and benighted idiots who fail to understand the notions of their more intelligent betters. But liberal elitists are the ones who exchange the bread of doctrine for the stone of moral relativism and social action with man as the world's savior. Who needs God when you have Bill Gates and Dr. Fauci?
THE KENOSIS THEOLOGY PROMOTED BY POPE FRANCIS
by Fr. Tom Collins
There is a lot of confusion and concern among orthodox Catholics concerning some of the statements and actions of Pope Francis since he began his pontificate. However, if we look at these by embracing the premises of the ever-evolving kenosis theology, they do make sense.Kenosis theology is based on Philippians 2:7-8, where we are told that, in order to save us, Jesus had to “empty Himself” (Greek, kenosis) on the cross. It asserts that, just as Jesus emptied Himself for our salvation two thousand years ago, Catholics today are being called by “the Spirit” to courageously take the risks to “put out into the deep” (Lk 5:4) and step out in faith in order to embrace the wisdom of our modern world. To do this, however, requires that Catholics take the painful steps of renouncing the “false security” of the Church’s doctrinal dogmatism and moral rigorism offered by her “medieval theology.”
Kenosis theology asserts that the current situation in the Church is analogous to that of the Apostolic Church. When Gentiles were allowed to be baptized without first being circumcised in accordance with Mosaic Law, Jewish Christians were deeply disturbed. For several centuries, faithful Jews had been going through great suffering and persecution because they insisted in being faithful to all the commands and precepts of the Mosaic Law (cf., Dan 3:2-97, 6:2-25; I Mac 1:60-63, II Mac 6:18-7:41). Jesus Himself observed all these laws (cf., Lk 2:21-41, 4:16). These Jewish Christians were thus upset. They sincerely, though mistakenly, thought that most of the precepts of the Mosaic Law, which were an integral dimension of the Jewish covenantal relationship with God and for which they had been enduring so much persecution and suffering, were now to be glibly ignored in order to accommodate Gentile converts. And their opposition did not stop after the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29), as is indicated numerous times in the ways St. Paul faced opposition within the Church from Judaizers.
In a similar way, kenosis theology sadly points out that traditional Catholics are trapped in an inadequate and rigid medieval theology, which is not in harmony with the wisdom, insights and customs of contemporary society. Like the Judaizers of New Testament times, they are tragically caught up in the obsessive-compulsion of doctrinal dogmatism and a moral rigorism, which cannot effectively address the challenges of our modern age. Thus they oppose any effort of Church leaders, like Pope Francis, to humbly empty her of her arrogant assurance of the truth, which was manifested in former ages her proclaiming that there is only one Way to eternal life and that Baptism was absolutely necessary for salvation. Such assertions allegedly restrict the freedom of the Spirit to renew the face of the earth on God’s terms.
The proponents of kenosis theology will also point out how the lapsi in the early Church were allowed to be reconciled to the Church. The lapsi were those who, under duress or torture during the Roman persecutions, renounced Jesus and the Catholic Faith. Many Catholics, who had suffered torture, exile and/or confiscation of property during the persecutions, were opposed to them being so easily reconciled to the Church. They believed that such a reconciliation would compromise the integrity of the Faith and the spiritual stamina of the faithful. Yet Church leaders chose to open the way for the lapsi to be reconciled.
Similarly, the proponents of kenosis theology will point out that the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for serious sins was severely limited in the early Church. But, with the large number of barbarians being converted with little catechetical formation, this discipline was incrementally relaxed by Church leaders.
Thus it is that, by way of analogy, proponents of kenosis theology view the Scriptures as living documents, much as liberal justices on the Supreme Court view the Constitution as “a living, breathing document”, which must be interpreted not as originally written or in accordance with the original intent of its authors, but in a way that addresses the current felt needs of various special interest groups in our nation. This tendency was reflected in the “evolution” of the Code of Canon Law. The 1918 Code of Canon Law made aborticide a restrict sin, with the requirement that absolution could be given and penance imposed only in accordance with the directive of the local bishop. This discipline was embraced because aborticide did not merely kill an innocent child. It also did so in a way that ensured that the child would never be able to be baptized. The 1981 Code, however, eliminated this restriction.
Kenosis theology also accentuates the need to renounce appreciation of one's cultural heritage. Since the history of all human cultures, civil or religious, is tainted by sin, appreciation of one's heritage is to be viewed as intrinsically racist - or even evil. Even if such appreciation of the unique qualities of one's cultural or religious heritage does not disparage the unique beauty of other cultures or religions, such an appreciation can gradually become the breeding ground for systemic racism. Such systemic racism is now being recognized even by the pope as hidden in the centuries old assertion that the Catholic Church is the one true religion established by God. Kenosis theology thus points out that, while God should have a monopoly on the Catholic Church, we are not thereby free to assert that the Catholic Church has a monopoly on the truth and holiness of God. God is always free to speak to humanity in partial and diverse ways (Heb 1:1) both within and outside the Church.
Likewise, kenosis theology requires that we critically examine those dimensions of the cultural and religious heritage of the African-American community and Hispanic communities, which are so deeply tainted by the influence of European Christianity. After all, we must admit that, for centuries, such a "heritage" was systemically imposed on them by colonial powers, either through benign or oppressive motives. Thus, members of the African-American and Hispanic communities are now seeking to break the last vestiges of the cultural chains imposed by colonial powers of the past five centuries. By renouncing the "quaint" cultural heritages imposed by colonial powers, they will be extolled by future generations as prophetic voices heralding a New World Order, based on tolerance, inclusivity and a "liberating" moral relativism
Kenosis theology, then, asserts that authentic spirituality requires that individuals, societies and the Church herself must courageously enter in new ways into the self-emptying love and wisdom Christ. And as He manifested His fidelity to His Father by courageously stepping out in faith, so as to embrace humanity as it was in His day, He is now calling His disciples to do likewise in our present age. And they are to do so not by judging the modern world in terms of obsolete moral precepts and antiquated dogmas, but rather by both courageously and compassionately embracing a spirit of tolerance, inclusion and affirmation. After all, Jesus Himself pointed out that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man (Mk 2:27). Kenosis theology merely expands on the wisdom of these words to point out that man was not made to serve the other nine culturally biased Commandments, but rather that those commandments were given to serve humanity by affirming the dignity of each person, regardless of that person's race, creed or lifestyle.
Renouncing a sense of security given through one's religious and cultural heritage is awkward at first. Thus it is that Pope Francis seems to appreciates the current need to maintain the facade of the Faith by promoting quaint devotions and proclaiming pious platitudes, all of which help to sustain souls as the larger agenda of the New World Order is incrementally introduced into the perspectives, premises and practices of a new generation of Catholics. Thus it is that, as we become more compassionately and lovingly engaged with each other in the vision of hope being offered to us through the secularist New World Order and the guidance of its ever-evolving wisdom of political correctness, we will come to see how the Kingdom of God is already being established in our midst through the various technological and theological developments of our age and the new political structures being developed for a New World Order.
Kenosis theologians thus assert that we can only courageously proclaim the ever-evolving Faith of the Church and be faithful to our heritage by renouncing the allegedly vapid false security offered by the premises and precepts of our “primitive poorly evolved” Faith. They claim that, only in this way, will we finally be able to witness Christ making all things new (Rev 21:5) through the global implementation of the agenda of the New World Order.
And they insist that, if we just “step out in faith” and uncritically embrace the premises, promises and conclusions of their kenosis theology, we will be able to see how, in their own strange way, they do make sense. This is especially the case since, for over half a century, we have been introduced to various forms of pastoral care and theology, which have incrementally prioritized 1) emotions over truth, 2) subjective values over objective virtues, 3) respect for sin-seared consciences more than for sincere consciences, 4) secular relevance over Divine Revelation and 5) expediency over integrity. Kenosis theologians assure us that, by courageously continuing to travel on this path of "compassion, hospitality, inclusion and tolerance", we will witness “the Spirit” renewing humanity and our planet in ways beyond our comprehension.
Fr. Thomas R. Collins Hot Springs VA firstname.lastname@example.org
ADDENDUM - In opposition to the agenda of the proponents of kenosis theology, it must be noted that Jesus came to bring the truths proclaimed in the Law and by the prophets to fruition by His cooperation with the Holy Spirit in integrating them through a new covenant into Himself. He did not come to abrogate those truths through an amoral amorphous ambiguity, which leaves humanity subject to the ever-evolving secularist dictates of political correctness, which promote subjective opinions, emotions and values in such a way that those who dare to proclaim our accountability to objective virtues and/or our obligation to carefully discern the whole truth of God can be routinely maligned, ostracized, slandered or otherwise written off as undeserving of any serious consideration. Jesus Christ is not ever-evolving. He is the same - yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:20).