Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Mercy Quotient: Did Pope Francis Just Implicitly Condemn Vatican II and the New Mass?

"That's right, children. It's all in the Baltimore Catechism."

Papal Bull on Mercy, Part 2

In his recent Bull of Indiction on the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis writes,
Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life...[But] Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy. The temptation, on the one hand, to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. But the Church needs to go beyond and strive for a higher and more important goal...The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics...
Now, this sort of thing is red meat for critics of the Pope, who see it as a sort of backhanded attack on traditional Church teachings. Not that they would dispute that mercy and justice don't go hand in hand or that God's mercy doesn't in the end have the potential to at least in some sense win out. Rather, the idea is that the Pope has set up a sort of straw man here and is using his idea of "mercy" to tar virtually any Church teachings that he disagrees with or wants to "change".

But for the sake of argument, let's assume this is not what the Pope is doing. Let's take him at his word. We--the Catholic Church or Catholics in general--had a "temptation" to "focus exclusively on justice", and this made us "forget" about mercy.

The obvious question is when?

When did we focus exclusively on justice, or when did we allow our temptation to do so make us downgrade or minimize the importance of mercy?

Is he talking about his earlier papal self? Pope Benedict? The pre-Vatican II popes? The renaissance popes onwards? The medieval popes onwards? Or perhaps even all popes since the era of the Church Fathers? I think it's fair to say that one of the most infuriating things about this sort of claim is that what's being alleged is never precisely defined. But of course if it were precisely explained, then it would either seem mean--a snarky attack on his predecessor or whatever--or would have a likelier chance of being exposed as obviously false. By leaving it vague it is much more useful as a sort of mantra, to argue (without really arguing) for "change" or more accurately for the Pope's own agenda, whatever it actually is.

But again, let's be charitable about his intentions. There is nothing disrespectful or wrong about simply asking the question. In terms of the proper "balance" between justice and mercy, when did things, so to speak, go wrong?

I propose to answer it by putting forward the idea of the Mercy Quotient. Let's look at some of the relevant texts and simply count the words. Looking exclusively at occurrences of "justice" and "mercy", what is the proportion of the total taken up by "mercy"?

Is this scientific? Sure, or at least it is at first pass or as an initial approximation. And theologians and Church historians often do this sort of thing to make a particular point: Jesus talked about the Old Testament more than any other topic. Jesus mentioned Hell more than Heaven, but He also mentioned "love" more than "law". Vatican II mentions "Hell" 2 times and "social justice" 347 times. I made the last one up, but you get the idea. If we're talking about emphasis (which is exactly what the Pope is getting it) then surely the number of times a word occurs has some meaning. Is it crude? Of course. But it's a start.

So here we go. Justice vs. Mercy. We're looking for these words only. Thus, for example, "just" or "merciful" do not count. The Mercy Quotient is "mercy"/("justice" + "mercy"). In each case the link is to the precise sources used.

First, the Bible (the Old and New Testaments). In the New Revised Standard Version--the "Catholic Bible"--"justice" appears 157 times and "mercy" appears 200 times.

Justice: 157
Mercy: 200
Mercy Quotient: 56%

Who can dispute that this "gets it right"? Justice is important. That word is in the top ten nouns used, or something like that. But Mercy is even more important. And thus, in a certain sense, it wins. Presumably Pope Francis would approve. (Of course, all Christians should approve. It's the Bible.)

Justice: 8
Mercy: 10
Mercy Quotient: 56%

This is actually quite remarkable if you think about it. Trent was one of the most important councils ever, and of course it's a council as opposed to the amalgamation of things the Bible is, but nevertheless the Mercy Quotient is identical. I'm not proposing anything supernatural (so to speak) here, but it's still remarkable.

Justice: 0
Mercy: 1
Mercy Quotient: 100%

Okay, we'll throw this out due to small sample size. But still, based on this, no one could say that in Vatican I, justice trumped mercy (if anyone wanted to say that).

Justice: 25
Mercy: 33
Mercy Quotient: 57%

Now, the Baltimore Catechism sort of defines late nineteenth-century Catholicism. And there's that 56% (well, 57%) figure again. Guys, I'm not making these numbers up. This is NOT a parody or anything like that. Please check the numbers if you don't believe me.

Justice: 32
Mercy: 27
Mercy Quotient: 46%

Another "defining" text. Mercy takes a dip. But this is the eve of America's entry into World War I. Hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers have already died fighting the Hun. This taints things.

Justice: 25
Mercy: 33
Mercy Quotient: 57%

Back up to the trend line.

Now, get ready for the real stunner:

Justice: 61
Mercy: 11
Mercy Quotient: 15%

I know, Vatican II apologists are going to say all sorts of things about this, and I wouldn't be unsympathetic to some of them. But still, I defined the rules before I did the calculations. And the numbers are what they are.

Justice: 112
Mercy: 81
Mercy Quotient: 42%

One explanation: The Church is less merciful now than it was in the mid-twentieth century (or than it was in the late-nineteenth century or mid-sixteenth century). Alternate explanation: The Church is heading back to the trend line after the black-hole (in terms of mercy) of Vatican II.

I want to look at things now from a different angle--comparing the Old Mass with the New Mass. Let me say first, though, that we can't precisely use the Mercy Quotient here, for one simple and perhaps surprising reason: In the ordinaries of both Masses, the word "justice" never appears.

But "mercy" appears multiple times in each Mass.

So let's use a new concept--the Mercy Frequency. How many times does the word "mercy" appear in the ordinary of each Mass, as a proportion of the total number of words? To avoid annoying fractions and to make things simpler, we'll multiply each result by 1,000. Point of clarification, the "total number of words" includes instructions (though these only make up a fraction of the total) and alternate choices. One of the ways the New Mass differs from the Old Mass is that there are alternate sets of words or phrases in a number of places--"the Presider may pick A, B or C" and so on. But this shouldn't change things. Alternate choices will simply "average" the occurrences in a way that shouldn't affect the results.

Total Words: 3,951
Mercy: 21
Mercy Frequency: 5.3

Total Words: 2,632
Mercy: 6
Mercy Frequency: 2.3

So, there it is. The use of "mercy" is almost two-and-a-half times more common (dividing through by the number of words) in the Old Mass as in the New Mass.

Indeed, the difference is even more pronounced if one subtracts the occurrences of "mercy" in or around the Kyrie--"Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy", etc.

Old Mass
Total Words: 7,910
Mercy: 12
Mercy Frequency: 3.0

New Mass
Total Words: 5,263
Mercy: 2
Mercy Frequency: 0.8

Let's summarize our conclusions:

Mercy Quotient
Bible: 56%
Trent: 56%
Vatican I: 100% (Okay, I cheated and left it in. It's a small sample, but still)
Baltimore Catechism: 57%
Faith of our Fathers: 46%
Baltimore Catechism (rev.): 57%
Vatican II: 15%
Catechism: 42%

Mercy Frequency
Old Mass: 5.3
New Mass: 2.3
Old Mass (without Kyrie): 3.0
New Mass (without Kyrie): 0.8

Okay, I do not wish to be misunderstood here. I'm not holding up these silly mathematical calculations as the be-all and end-all of theological and historical analysis. Thus, for example, whatever it's other faults, I don't really think Vatican II was a "black-hole" in terms of mercy.

But the above does have an important purpose. Obviously the Pope is implicitly condemning the pre-Vatican II Church for putting justice over mercy in some un-Christian or un-Catholic way, and in consequence condemning those contemporary Traditionalists and others who don't want to go along with the current program, or whatever.

This is a straw man. Or more accurately and strongly, it's a lie. And it's a lie on the Pope's very own terms.

Indeed, on the Pope's own terms, the truth is almost precisely the opposite. For the first 1,932 years of the Church's history, there has been an almost uncanny consistency on the balance between justice and mercy . But then Vatican II suddenly tipped things against mercy.

It all went south with Vatican II. And the New Mass continued the trend.

On the Pope's own terms he is in fact implicitly condemning Vatican II and the New Mass.

Do I really believe that? Of course not. I'm just trying to show how ridiculous the whole thing is.

Now, the Pope or his allies could counter this. They could say something like, "yeah, but even though the Baltimore Catechism mentions mercy many times, the Church or Catholics of the time didn't really take that seriously. They said it, but they didn't live it. Or feel it." Or whatever.


But then, what is the evidence for that?

Clearly the Pope isn't interested in providing any. As I said, his claim isn't really about actual theology or history or anything like that. In his mouth the mercy thing isn't even a claim. Rather, it's a mantra.

Say it over and over again. Say it louder and louder. Condemn those who question the project. Then shout it again until your opponents are lulled into silence by the inanity of it all or switch to an SSPX church or whatever.

Or until they lose their faith.

We're all responsible for others. The Pope no less than anyone.

Stay by the cross. Pray for the Church. Pray for Pope Francis.

And teach your kids how to do math.

NEXT: God's Mercy: Do You Really Have to Ask?


  1. Brilliant!

    Here's one I did before the last consistory.

    Numbers, even when used as relative values, don't lie.

    1. Very interesting! The prisoners' dilemma explains much. I remember that story, but it seems to have sort of died. And I had forgotten the excommunication part. Who can see what happens next? Though I'm afraid we're in for more interesting times.

  2. As a none Roman Catholic who nevertheless is a somewhat informed observer it does seem to me that Vatican II did fundamentally de-anchor the RCC from its identity. This happened earlier in the various magisterial Protestant churches with critical liberalism and the ecumenical movement.
    And she threw away many of her best arguments against traditional Protestants.

    1. That's exactly, right.

      To look at it charitably, the idea was, if we become more like Protestants, we'll pick up some of that demographic. That project of course utterly failed. Protestants are really good at doing Protestant things (obviously). And if anyone wants that (and there are many good reasons to), they're going to want the real thing, not a bad imitation or worst of both worlds mix.

      There is nothing more faith destroying than a bad Catholic New Mass. Nothing.

      I wasn't converted to Catholicism by attending those affairs. I was converted by Protestants who lived their Christian faith. One of them was the woman who is now my wife.

  3. You judge mercy by how many times the word is used??!! Wow. Does the word "Pharisee" mean anything to you?

    1. With respect, I think you missed the point.

    2. I don't think so. I think I got the point loud and clear.

    3. 'However much I make the point of a story stand out like a spike, there will always be some who insist on impaling themselves on something else....' G.K. Chesterton

  4. The V2 rise of abortion- which is totally without mercy, and no corresponding proclamation of justice, seems to me to outweigh all of the arguments that the modern church isn't merciful enough- by ignoring humanity forfeiting its future through genocide of future generations, still the mere but vocal proclamation of mercy hasn't achieved any improvement in church attendance, conversions or love of God.

    1. Yes. But I think a REAL vocal proclamation of mercy would convert people. We get absolute mercy every week in the confessional. That's an amazing thing. An incredible thing. What Christian wouldn't want that? But today, not only is that message not proclaimed to others. But even most Catholics have forgotten it, if they were ever taught it in the first place.

      I used to wrongly think abortion was merely one of many Christian issues--important perhaps but not central. It's tempting to not make it a "single issue" that overwhelms the "entirety of the Christian message" or whatever. But if life isn't central, then Jesus died in vain.