From John Ray's shorter notes
December 09, 2013
Is the Pope a Protestant?I want to devote some time today to discussing the first major document issued by the new Pope -- EVANGELII GAUDIUM. It is "merely" an Apostolic Exhortation, which is a long way from an Encyclical, but it clearly sets out what Francis hopes will be a new direction for the church. Like its author, the document has attracted a lot of attention so it is surely desirable that we know something about it, whether we agree with it or not.And I can't see that even evangelical Protestants will find much to disagree with in it. In fact, of all people, evangelical Protestants should find most to agree with in it. He has to a considerable degree stolen their clothes. The Preface to the document is actually a good refresher course in most of what they believe. It would sound good from any Protestant pulpit and its focus -- on evangelism -- sounds very Protestant. The title of the document translates as "The joy of evangelism", which is something of a departure from church history -- which might be summarized as Evangelii Gladius (the sword of evangelism).Even in small ways we see evidence of a Protestantized Pope. He refers, for instance, to the last book of the Bible as "Revelations", rather than the traditional Catholic title of "Apocalypse".Some instructive excerpts below with my comments in italics:Francis thinks that the church at the moment is pretty dead:"We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented.Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach."The church needs to stop talking about homosexuality etc. and start talking about salvation"34. If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.35. Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing."In the next excerpt I think Francis is absolutely wrong. Philosophy, theology and social sciences DESTROY faith. Faith is emotional, not intellectual. Francis is a great optimist to think it will work the way he thinks"40. The Church is herself a missionary disciple; she needs to grow in her interpretation of the revealed word and in her understanding of truth. It is the task of exegetes and theologians to help “the judgment of the Church to mature”. The other sciences also help to accomplish this, each in its own way. With reference to the social sciences, for example, John Paul II said that the Church values their research, which helps her “to derive concrete indications helpful for her magisterial mission”. Within the Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel."Now for the first "socialist" bit in the document. Francis is taking the side of the "Down and out" people. But note that he deplores that only. He is telling the clergy and laity of the church to be compassionate, not telling politicians to enact redistribution. And note that he rejects an economic focus ("Exploitation") for his comments and suggests a different, more sociological focus, marginalization."Masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.I like this bit"47. The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door."This is where Francis is different. He says "No" to grandeur. And he is surely right. The wealth of the church offends many. It's almost a Salvation Army doctrine that he is voicing"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."Again comes a "socialist" bit. But note again that he does not say that equality is possible. His Lord and Master after all said it is not: "The poor ye have always with you". It is religion and individual action that Francis sees as the solution. See the quote following the one immediately below"The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident.""And not our own""We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own"He goes on to condemn the idolatry of money and consumerism but so does the Primate of the Church of England and so do many others. (I myself think consumerism is great but only some libertarians seem to share that view). The rest of the document is religious up until paragraph 183 and could have been written by many Christian leaders. But in 183 we see a "desire to change the world", which is of course the essence of Leftism183 "An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it."But how is that to be implemented? By political campaigns? No. "Concern" is what is needed. Again his emphasis is on the personal:"All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world."Note that the following paragraph is about what "We desire" -- to which a reasonable response might be" "Who doesn't?". Desiring and attaining can be very distant from one another"192. Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use."But in para. 204 he shows his South American roots by becoming explicitly Leftist. He clearly knows no economics"204. We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality."But again his solution is religious"205. I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world! Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. We need to be convinced that charity “is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)”. I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans?"The rest of the document is either conventionally religious or simply conventional. Like notable encyclicals of the past such as De Rerum Novarum and Centesimus Annus, the Pope has a politically naive and hence Left-leaning view of the world's problems but avoids support for any sort of reform or revolutionary politics. He has ZERO political prescriptions, only personal and religious ones. I think he is right to say that the church should put evangelism first and he would hardly be a responsible Christian leader if he did not deplore the pain and suffering in the world.
And as a religious document, I can see nothing in it that Protestants would object to -- excepting perhaps a few incidental references to the authority of the church. Am I right about that? Others will have to answer that. But at least I have read the document, which seems to be more than some critics have done
More on Pope Francis
I have to conclude that Evangelii gaudium is a failure as a policy document. It has been extensively misunderstood. As I think I showed yesterday, a careful reading of it favours neither Left nor Right in politics. Francis identifies what he sees as a raft of social problems and many of those problems are ones that Leftists dine out on. But he does not call for political action to remedy those problems . He recommends prayer and personal compassion as the response to such problems.
But just about nobody seems to have noticed that. The Left think he has come down firmly on their side and conservatives see him as pro-Left too. See for instance here for a conservative critique.
The problem as I see it is that people on both sides of politics in the Western world see a statement of social grievances as a call for political action. So Francis has misjudged his audience. He is politically naive: Rather surprising in a Jesuit.
Past Popes in their encyclicals have taken care to remain in the middle ground of politics. John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus annus is a good example of that. Fortunately, Evangelii gaudium is an informal document so is not binding in any way. So Francis should move soon to issue an encyclical which cancels out the naive political views that are expressed in Evangelii gaudium. He will lose a lot of conservative Catholics otherwise. And Leftists are not conspicuous as churchgoers. His good intentions may be bad for his church. Pius XII came quite unfairly to be called "Hitler's Pope". Will Francis come to be known as "Stalin's Pope"?
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