Horizontal versus Vertical Orientation

Nicholas Frankovich has a very astute post in National Review’s Corner blog about the amazing technicolor light show from the Vatican last night. In it he argues that the real battle in the Catholic world is not between the right and the left, but rather between those who are vertically oriented and horizontally oriented.

Two years ago on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis traveled to the neighborhood, Piazza di Spagna, which is near Rome’s highest-end shopping district, to pray and preach against neglect of the poor. On that occasion too, his politics overshadowed his spirituality. In general, he does a bad job of integrating Christianity’s horizontal message, “love thy neighbor,” with its vertical message, “love God.”

His intentions may be noble, but what he usually ends up communicating is that the horizontal message is primary. His assumption, which was fashionable among Jesuit educators in the 1970s, is apparently based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: You can’t expect someone to listen to your theology and philosophy if he’s cold, hungry, and sick. So the first duty of a teacher and of a preacher is to be, in effect, a social worker and political activist.

The poor we will have always with us, however. The implication of Jesuit social activism is that we must constantly postpone our attention to their spiritual needs. In many quarters, including the Vatican under this pontificate, the institutional Church has lapsed — or crashed, with a thud — into its besetting sin of valuing temporal over spiritual power. The political popes of the Renaissance would understand Francis well.

Contemporary Catholicism is mainly divided not between the political Left and the political Right but between the horizontally oriented and the vertically oriented. The latter are often pushed to the margins of Catholic circles. Last night, while up at corporate headquarters the princes of the Church were garishly attempting to ingratiate themselves to global political elites, the Institute of Christ the King, an order of traditional Catholic priests, led a stately Marian procession through the streets of Rome.

I noted in my critique of Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical that it really lacked a firm theological message, and that the encyclical was too secular in its language. Frankovich crystallizes why Pope Francis’s message seemed so hollow to me.

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  1. “I noted in my critique of Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical that it really lacked a firm theological message, and that the encyclical was too secular in its language. ”

    That’s an understatement. I would say it employs the same “Ideology runneth over my theology.” mindset that we have seen from most of the world’s bishops for over four decades.

  2. This “horizonatlization” (hope that’s a real word) was the primary reason behind Bugninni/Paul VI’s destruction of the liturgy. And with the reorientation of the liturgy, all else followed. This is the reason behind why Francis hates the Catholics, i.e. what he terms the traditionalists.

  3. Thanks Paul Zummo for bringing this horizontal, vertical metaphor of secular/religious orientation to our attention. It captures the picture of Pope Francis’ messages and himself, for that matter, perfectly. Pope Francis is all about the ‘here’ while Christ was all about the here and the hereafter. If Pope Francis was smart he would put much more emphasis on the ‘hereafter’ as the deal is, most folks can’t do much about the ‘here’ but they can make it valuable by offering it up for the ‘hereafter’.

  4. I believe that the emphasis on social justice, beginning around the turn of the last century with movements like Le Sillon and La Jeunesse ouvrière chrétienne, was itself a reaction to what had been happening since the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
    As Mgr Ronald Knox put it, “In the various European countries where the Church was still strong, she found herself everywhere attacked by the same people who were using the language of humanitarianism and of reform. Men were slow to distinguish her, and perhaps it must be admitted that she was slow to distinguish herself, from those parties of mere reaction which the new Liberalism assailed.” The same could be said for the Americas.
    Thus, Jacques Maritain was able to write of the French Bourgeoisie, “the class in question had among its most solid members a number of practical atheists, more or less brought up by Voltaire and Béranger. They called themselves Catholic, though in all their principles of conduct they denied God, Christ and the Gospel, and upheld religion for merely temporal and political reasons — preserving social order and prosperity in business, consolidating their economic power, and keeping the lower classes in obedience by means of a virtuous rigor sanctioned from on high.” It was their existence that reached its zenith, if not its caricature, in the “Catholic atheism” of Charles Maurras and l’action française.
    One recalls the scathing words of Maurice Blondel: “A Catholicism without Christianity, submissiveness without thought, an authority without love, a Church that would rejoice at the insulting tributes paid to the virtuosity of her interpretative and repressive system… To accept all from God except God, all from Christ except His Spirit, to preserve in Catholicism only a residue that is aristocratic and soothing for the privileged and beguiling or threatening for the lower classes—is not all this, under the pretext perhaps of thinking only about religion, really a matter of pursuing only politics?”
    If the reaction, like most reactions, overstates the case on the other side, this is hardly to be wondered at.

  5. Well, I believe the pope’s horizontal emphasis is based on his lack of faith. It is also the height of irony that his horizontal prescriptions will guarantee that there will always be a need for more horizontal prescriptions. I mean, ban carbon energy sources or make them more expensive and you will have more poor to whom you can preach more horizontal salvation. I use the word “salvation” intentionally because listening to this pope you would truly think he believes his social policies will save our souls.

  6. Ernst S: Agree 100%. Christ tells us the first great commandment is to love God with all our being and with all our might. The second is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
    When we do corporal, charitable works we do them out of love of God and neighbor. If God is not the motivation, it is not Christian Charity. Horizontal liberals confiscate money and give it to others, not for God or love, but for control and power.

    Sometimes a really-smart atheist can contribute to our Faith formation. Orwell in his essay, “Reflections on Gandhi”, writes about the horizontal, “. . . the belief that Man is the measure of all things and that our job is to make life worth living on this earth, which is the only earth we have.” A long paragraph later, ” But it is not necessary here to argue whether the other-worldly or the humanistic ideal is ‘higher.’ The point is that they are incompatible. One must choose between God and Man, and all ‘radicals’ and ‘progressives,’ . . . have in effect chosen Man.”

  7. Great insights in each of the prior comments.

    Nicholas Frankovich on P. Francis’ sermonizing: “…On that occasion too, his politics overshadowed his spirituality..”
    Q. Is there a “core” there to P Francis’ words where there really is a profound relationship with God? I am asking the question because as the months and years have ground on, I have increasingly doubted that there is.

    In his now-famous interview by America magazine Sept. 30, 2013, I was especially disturbed and concerned about P. Francis for the first time: He said:
    “…In this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good.”

    P. Francis clearly is uncomfortable with persons who have a certainty of having met God: from that we may infer that he definitely lacks that same certainty;and he even practically makes a virtue of doubt, in praising uncertainty.

    Having watched him now for soon-to-be 3 years, I think there is no core there, that Jesus Christ and God are “props” to his politics, which are what really revs him up, and that he is in fact certain of little or nothing: which makes total change of anything perfectly acceptable.

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