Before I begin, I think my reader [sic] should know that part of what drives me to keep “discerning” the true face and voice of Pope Francis in the light of Biblical Tradition is that for many years I grappled with a vocation to the Jesuit order. When I consider Pope Francis, therefore, and when I discern troubling aspects of him, I am in a very real sense considering the kind of Jesuit I might have become. Back on my old blog I maintained a “Jesuit Honor Roll,” in large measure to give myself hope at the time that entering the Society was a defensibly wise move for me. (Three guesses who the last Jesuit is that I added to the list before letting it drift away seven years ago!) I ended up choosing the connubial life, but I still have a very soft spot in my heart for classical Jesuits. As such, when I pursue our Jesuit Pope in these seemingly interminable writings of mine, it might be best for you to see me as trying to exorcise the Ghost of Jesuit Future that I may have become.
But enough about me.
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Theme music for this post: “Mysty Mountain Flop”
This is important: a theology of sin. Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope.
[Questo è importante: una teologia del peccato. Tante volte penso a San Pietro: ha fatto uno dei peggiori peccati, che è rinnegare Cristo, e con questo peccato lo hanno fatto Papa.]
Rube that I am, all this time I thought Jesus Christ confirmed Peter as Pope. Who is “they” in Francis’s mind? He sounds exactly like a fundamentalist Christian (or, if you like, an atheist) taking a jab at how “they” just “make saints” in the Catholic Church. Are we hearing the voice of the neo-Jesuit, post-Tridentine Bergoglio betraying a subliminal belief that all the old-fashioned Catholic hierarchy stuff is just human politics by another name?
For the proper “context” we should recall a related gem from the Scalfari encounter:
“[W]hen I meet a clericalist, I suddenly become anti-clerical. Clericalism should not have anything to do with Christianity. St. Paul, who was the first to speak to the Gentiles, the pagans, to believers in other religions, was the first to teach us that. … St. Paul is the one who laid down the cornerstones of our religion and our creed.”
Ohhh, I get it now. If St. Paul, the rabid anti-clericalist, was open to other religions and “laid down the cornerstones” of the Catholic religion, how much more tenuous a link to the divine will there is in the decision “they” made to make Peter the Pope. Our Pope of the Open Mic seems to be saying that, y’know, just like some guys made him Pope earlier this year, some other guys made Peter Pope just a few years before that.
What’s that you say? I’m being rash again?
Well, actually, no, I’m not. I’ve long since passed the window for making rash judgments. I’ve detected what I think is an ongoing pattern and an underlying system of assumptions in “Our Francis of the Interviews,” and I feel behooved to draw upon our Biblical Tradition to explain why it’s wrongheaded of so many conformist Catholics to stop at the letter of his off-the-cuff malapapalisms, thinking such blunders are worthy of the Pope’s duty as our teacher. If it’s the prerogative of Pope Francis to use words in an idiosyncratic and allusive way, then it’s the duty of faithful Catholics everywhere to interpret his words in––well, it’s actually a painfully open question what are the best lenses to use for parsing all of the Pope’s oracles.
[Yes, I have looked at the original Italian (San Paolo è quello che mise i cardini della nostra religione e del nostro credo), as well as the Spanish (San Pablo es quien puso las bases de nuestra religión y de nuestro credo), and, while I’ve henceforth chosen to use the Vatican’s official translations for my codgitations, the English translation on this point (St Paul is the one who put the hinges on our religion and our creed) is so questionable compared to the version I’ve used from La Repubblica as to be irrelevant.
And while I’m on the subject: the idea that we should ignore the exact words used by the Pope, and should instead just give a high five to the most orthodox interpretation that some clever soft-ultramontanist blogger can forge out of them, almost makes me dizzy with rage. I am a philosopher. I am a student and teacher of foreign languages. I adhere to a Faith in which the difference between homoousios and homoiousios is the difference between truth and falsity, between Heaven and Hell. The Vatican has posted these interviews on its website as official pronouncements of Pope Francis to the Church and to the world, so you can damn well expect this Catholic to heed the actual words that come from our Pope. I will not rest until I express the few remaining codgitations I have on these malapapalisms or until the source of the malapapalisms is retracted or crucially qualified, whichever happens first. (For my money, it will be the former.)]
I know, I know, it’s probably just me, as always, but verbal slippage like this offers glimpses into a mind that often amazes me with its subtle yet decisive divergence from traditional biblical teaching (a divergence which we’ll see again in our brief discussion of the Martha/Mary Matrix, later). I’m not being a Protestant by holding this (if the soft ultramontanists are to be believed) impeccable Christian witness up to the light of the Bible and often finding disturbing discrepancies.
On the contrary.
Abiding by the Scriptures in their fullness is the most Catholic thing I can do.
And so, let us consider who “they” are that made Peter Pope and who laid down the cornerstones of our religion.
Matthew 16 ––  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
I Corinthians 3 ––  According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.  For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2 ––  So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.
I Peter 2 ––  Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious;  and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
You get the idea.
I am not trying to skewer the Pope on an infelicitous word or two (much less when he’s speaking “off the cuff”––when isn’t he?). I am taking seriously the background, training, assumptions and implications nested in some of the Pope’s most infamous (or celebrated, depending) head-scratchers. The Pope’s background and training are South-American neo-Jesuit, in an order that has become infamous (or famous, again, depending) for its widespread defection from papal loyalty. Francis admits this in his own sly way when he says to Scalfari:
Remember that Carlo Maria Martini, who was very dear to you and to me, belonged to the [Jesuit] Order. The Jesuits were and still are a leaven — not the only one but perhaps the most effective [!] — of catholicity [oh, neo-Jesuits are an effective leaven, all right, just not of Catholicism––more like of catholicity qua universalism]: through culture, teaching, missionary witness, loyalty to the Pope. But Ignatius, who founded the Society, was also a reformer and a mystic, especially a mystic”.
“But…especially a mystic.”
That’s an essential key for unlocking Pope Francis. I don’t think it’s the essential key, as another longish post intends to explain, but “the primacy of the mystical” is certainly an essential key. Consider something else he said to Spadaro:
Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation, which allows you rather to discuss. The style of the Society is … shaped … by discernment, which of course presupposes discussion as part of the process. The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking. There have been periods in the Society in which Jesuits have lived in [a distorted] environment of closed and rigid thought, more instructive-ascetic than mystical….
Regardless what else Ignatius may have been in reality––zealous proselytizer, staunch clericalist, moral absolutist, triumphalistic and anti-ecumenical Roman Catholic––he was a mystic.
Come to think of it, though…
Who else might have been a mystic in Francis’s eyes?
Rule #13 For Thinking With The Church: “If [the Church] shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner––wait a minute, who are they to judge? Clericalism sux, bro!”
In closing, I highly recommend you read the NCR story linked just above: the “prophetic” Martini seems to have gotten in Pope Francis the Pope he would have wanted. In other words, I don’t what the opposite of “rolling in his grave” is, but, whatever it is, Martini’s doing it.
Also, if you read that Wiki link about Martini, notice his pastoral wisdom when he says that clerics should not publicly voice highly complex objections to the Church’s moral teaching in order to avoid “the risk of promoting an irresponsible attitude”. I pray that Pope Francis starts practicing his mentor’s prophetic prudence, not the least because the Pope is an even more influential clerical voice than Martini ever thought he might have been.
More to come soon.