The Confession of the Pope Who Came From Afar
In an interview with the magazine of the Jesuits of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio unravels the enigma of his silence on the anthropological revolution taking place. Which involves birth, death, procreation, the entire nature of man
by Sandro Magister
ROME, September 20, 2013 – In the twenty-eight pages of his interview with the director of “La Civiltà Cattolica” Antonia Spadaro, published simultaneously in sixteen other magazines of the Society of Jesus all over the world, there are two passages in which Pope Francis unravels one of the biggest enigmas of his pontificate.
That is, he explains why he has been so taciturn on questions on which his predecessor popes have clashed more vivaciously with the dominant culture.
The first of these passages is the following:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus.
“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
“I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing.”The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”
The second revealing passage is sparked by this observation of pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio:
“Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.”
Father Spadaro writes:
“So I ask the pope if this also applies, and how, to an important cultural frontier which is that of the anthropological challenge. The anthropology to which the Church has traditionally referred and the language with which it has expressed it remain a solid point of reference, the fruit of age-old wisdom and experience. Nonetheless, the man to whom the Church addresses itself no longer seems to understand it or consider it sufficient. I begin to reason on the fact that man is interpreting himself in a manner different from that of the past, with different categories. And this also because of the great changes in society and a broader study of himself.
“At this point he gets up and goes to get the breviary from his desk. It is in Latin, now worn from use. He opens to the Office of Readings for Friday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time and reads me a passage from the Commonitorium Primum of St. Vincent of Lerins: ‘Ita etiam christianae religionis dogma sequatur has decet profectuum leges, ut annis scilicet consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate.’ (Even the dogma of the Christian religion must follow these laws, consolidating over the years, developing over time, deepening with age).”
The pope continues:
“St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the Church to mature in her own judgment.
“Even the other sciences and their development help the Church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the Church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.
“After all, in every age of history, humans try to understand and express themselves better. So human beings in time change the way they perceive themselves. It’s one thing for a man who expresses himself by carving the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace,’ yet another for Caravaggio, Chagall and yet another still for Dalí. Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning.
“Humans are in search of themselves, and, of course, in this search they can also make mistakes. When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself. The deceived thought can be depicted as Ulysses encountering the song of the Siren, or as Tannhäuser in an orgy surrounded by satyrs and bacchantes, or as Parsifal, in the second act of Wagner’s opera, in the palace of Klingsor. The thinking of the Church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the Church’s teaching.”
From these arguments one gathers that Pope Francis is far from seeing in the modern-day cultural revolution the tremendous transition of civilization forcefully denounced by the popes who preceded him.
What prevails in Bergoglio is the idea that the new man who is moving forward, rather than harshly putting the Church to the test, is instead helping it to grow in understanding of the truth and to get rid of “ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now have lost value or meaning.”
How do we as Catholics weigh science, knowledge, and gained wisdom against our historical text which are arguably 1900 years old to 3600 years old? If we listen carefully to Pope Francis and our own intuitive prayer we recognize the bible may have been closed to edits, but our living interpretation of the bible, in light of revelations given to us by the sciences, arts, and experience, is indeed a living document. “Humans are in search of themselves, and, of course, in this search they can also make mistakes. When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself.” The attached article, if it teaches us anything, is humility and compassion when confronted by social issues that do not immediately conform to our understanding. Of course, it would be nice if non-catholics treated us the same way, but alas, catholics everyday face small and large persecution for our beliefs. Yet we are called to reach out beyond our insular catholic identity with love. Any contemplative theologian will tell you we know far less than we think we do about the ways of G-D, Jehovah, the Absolute Being. It is not easy being Catholic, but it can be easier if one is open to the challenges to our faith and our beliefs as the church grows in understanding. Of course, I can’t say it as concisely as Pope Francis says below:
The complete text of the interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica”: