Francis, Bannon, and the Neopelagian Crisis

By Shaun Kenney
February 7, 2017

The New York Times' Jason Horowitz attempts to thread together separate strands linking Trump White House counselor Steve Bannon to Cardinal Raymond Burke — recently the object of resistance to attempts by the German bishops to inaugurate a "reform of the reform" contra Pope Francis' efforts to bridge the divide with our Eastern Orthodox cousins — in an attempt to craft some form of grand nationalist conspiracy against the Catholic Church.

Given the recent controversy over the Sovereign Order of Malta, that would be a narrative that would tremendously benefit the "reformers of the reform" among the German bishops.

One should be clear about the position Pope Francis is currently in, and why Catholics of goodwill have an absolute duty to stand by Francis as the Vatican is under siege from all sides. Among the reformers, there is an attempt to pry the Magisterium so open that the Catholic Faith falls out.  Among the traditionalists, there is an alarming bent towards neopelagianism.

Within both camps, Pope Leo XIII's condemnation of postmodernism in Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae is proving to be more prophecy than phantom, and much like J.R.R. Tolkien's Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, the "phantom heresy" is taking real form.

The wisdom and foresight of Pope Leo XIII was to correctly address the rise of post-modernism in Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae as jointly holding both Protestant and Pelagian mindsets. In short, what Francis himself echoed in Evangelii Gaudium as a post-modern mindset trapped among two extremes: gnosticism and neopelagianism.

To be brief, Steve Bannon opposes the Catholic Church because he views it as a source of globalist influence against his nationalist (and Eurasianist) views; an institution held in thrall to the Second Vatican Council and what many on the neopelagian right view as too strong an emphasis on mercy over "the rules."

Such approaches are echoes of the nouvelle droite that has captured the politics of the Western world of late — a Christendom without the Christ that finds its roots not in the traditions of the West, but in the revanchism of the East, namely, the political theories of Alexander Dugin, and adopted in the far-right politics of France's National Front, Hungary's Jobbik Party, UKIP, or Germany's AfP.

Yet Francis is no liberal. Francis is a Jesuit and perhaps a Molinist at heart, which entails a very different concept of human freedom beyond the neo-Thomist reading emphasized by American Catholics, and taken to be authentic in the wake of the Americanist crisis of the late 19th century.

Our problem as Catholics in America is that we have no other conception of an authentic Catholicism among the laity apart from one seen through the neo-Thomistic lens.  After Leo XIII's condemnation of Americanism, it was Rome who sent theologians schooled in neo-Thomism, and faithful Catholics in America were quick to adopt what they eagerly believed to be an authentic expression of the Catholic mind.

The very idea that neo-Thomism could be incorrect smacks of liberalism, socialism, communism, and all the -isms that Catholics — in our rise to normalcy in the mid-20th century — find abhorrent. Neo-Thomism is the only language we (and as a former Catholic, Bannon himself) have.

When this neo-Thomistic foundation was unwound in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the neopelagians left the Church. Of course they begrudged the institution of Catholicism, of course they blamed the reformers.

This perhaps explains why pew sitting Catholics long for the rules, the liturgy, a more traditional Mass, and are ultimately confused by Pope Francis, who speaks of mercy.  Among the pull of German reformers and nouvelle droite provocateurs, it is men like Francis and Burke who have to walk a post-modernist tightrope — perhaps shorthand for rooting out Freemasonic influence? — in order to address the grip of gnosticism and neopelagianism in today's society.

This raises two points. First and foremost, Francis is no liberal, but is doing his utmost to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ writ large. If the objective is to engage in ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox, Lutherans, SSPX, and others, it is to be expected that factions held in thrall to the secular religions of the day will attempt to infiltrate that process. To that end, we have but one option: prayer.

Second and perhaps most important for those trying to decipher Francis' emphasis on mercy over rules is this: Francis is rescuing Catholicism from a neo-Thomist aberration that lends itself to dialectic materialism. Pope St. John Paul II won the war against Marxist materialism; Benedict and Francis have yet to win the war against Randian materialism.

This Randian materialism that emphasizes meritocracy over community is a sickness of post-modern culture, one that has placed the values of the West on a sickbed through sheer obesity and decadence rather than a lack of vitality from within. It is a brand of materialism wrapped in the post-modern acedia that places consumption over consequence — and it is an evil that separates a worthy few from an unworthy mass of humanity — what Pope Benedict called in his condemnation of neopelagianism as a "right to blessedness."

I have listened to Bannon talk once before at a 2007 meeting of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy in Richmond before a set crowd of about 60 conservative activists at one of their Wednesday Morning Group sessions. In that talk, Bannon's antipathy for Catholicism and immigration was made brutally clear. To wit, Bannon made the audacious claim that immigrants — specifically Hispanic Catholics — were part of a globalist plot to overwhelm American sic Protestant institutions in order to subjugate the United States to a globalist agenda.

In short, Bannon is a neopelagian because that is what the nouvelle droite embraces in its politics. Consumption over conscience, the rule of law as a maximum good rather than summum iustia summa injuria, the form of Christendom without the substance of Christendom. Christ for the faithful, not for the many.

The Times article is perhaps in a rush to align Steve Bannon and Cardinal Burke (and I think, incorrectly so) due to events concerning the Sovereign Order of Malta (which I firmly believe is more misunderstanding than crisis — give an American a hammer, and the world becomes a nail).

Yet it does go to show that the Vatican — and I think, correctly — believes itself under siege in the rise of the nouvelle droite. And the efforts of individuals such as Bannon, Le Pen, and the ideological high priest in Alexander Dugin all conspire to a "Christendom without Christ" — producing Russian errors and rooted in Russian soil.

Our Lady of Fatima, ora pro nobis.