Francis: Reformer or Revolutionary?

From the first days of his papacy Francis has been hailed as a radical reformer. The mainstream journalists have enjoyed creating a new narrative: The shadowy Dan Brown-type Vatican (as we all know) is worm eaten with secret pedophiles, a cadre of homosexuals, mobsters running the Vatican Bank, an ancient, sinister international conspiracy and Cardinals who are shady, secretive and scheming. Benedict XVI was, at best, a congenial old duffer more interested in red shoes and fancy vestments and giving top jobs to his cronies than in cleaning up the church. At worst he was the Goblin King sitting happily on top of the dung pile of the Catholic Church.

Then along comes the new St. Francis! The Cardinal from Buenos Aires who lived among the poor, took the bus to work and cooked his own rice and beans. The new broom is going to sweep clean. Down with the old and up with the new. Pope Francis is probably a Liberation Theology sympathizer– a revolutionary like “Good Pope John” who started the second Vatican Council which was the revolution the church needed in the 1960s. Since then John Paul II and Benedict XVI tried to turn the clock back, but at last the new springtime of the church is back.  Bring out the love beads and bell bottoms! Viva Papa Francesco! Revolution is here to stay!

Or perhaps not.

The problem with the narrative devised by the secular press is that it is constructed on philosophical presuppositions of which the journalists themselves are probably ignorant. The modern secular world interprets world events and history according to a hermeneutic of revolution or what Pope Benedict called a hermeneutic of rupture. This is essentially a Hegelian understanding of history in which there is thesis, antithesis and synthesis. In other words, there is a status quo, there is the challenge to the status quo and this brings about conflict out of which a new order is born.

This “hermeneutic of revolution” was pioneered at the Protestant Reformation–which is properly called the Protestant Revolution. Before that there was conflict, but for the most part the conflict was between nations, tribes or kingdoms. To revolt against one’s own tribe or nation was considered treachery and treason. However, the Protestant Revolution changed all that. The Protestant Revolution was perceived as righteous. At that point the precedent for revolution was established, and Western society has been determined and driven by the idea of righteous revolution as progress ever since. When I say “revolution as progress” the assumption is not only that things move forward through revolution, but that the revolution must, by definition, be a good thing. For the modern secularist, revolution means progress and progress must, by definition, be a move forward.

The key mark of revolution (as opposed to legitimate reform) is that the revolutionary is not only eager to bring about a new order. He must first destroy the old. Revolution is iconoclastic. The old must be destroyed in order for the new to be established. This is why we can characterize most of the Protestant Reformation as revolution rather than reform. The Protestants were not content to simply reform the medieval Catholic Church. They had to destroy the whole thing and start again. Read More.



  • 1ray1

    Great article, Father. Ran across a prayer the other day on line and think it fits what each of us must do toward reform. The author was truly a gifted and holy man.

    God has created me to do him some definite
    service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another.
    I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in
    the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between

    He has not created me for naught. I shall
    do good; I shall do his work.

    I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher
    of truth in my
    own place while not intending it, if I do but keep his

    Therefore, I will trust him. Whatever I
    am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him;
    in perplexity, my perplexity may serve him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may
    serve him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about. He may take away
    my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make
    my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, he knows what he is about (Bl. John Henry

  • vox borealis

    Reformer? Maybe…we’ll know more in a few years. Revolutionary? Hardly…unless one sees a return to the 70s aesthetic as revolutionary. But a return to 70s aesthetic it is, with its related Brother Son Sister Moon theological emphasis, have no doubts about that. So for the more traditionally minded of us, we just have to ride it out and see what comes next.

    Still, the Pope is indeed Catholic. Of *that* I have no doubts, and sooner or later the secular media will clue in on that. Of course, not before they further savage the memory of Benedict XVI and even John Paul II.

    • Wilhelmina

      Iwould not worry to much,he ls the right pope for our time ,Even pope Emeritus is playing a part,inthis,Gods plan.John Paul,Benedict ,And pope Francis are part of heavens plan.One day we will understand .Keep praying Come Lord Jesus come

  • GaryLockhart

    “The mainstream(sic) journalists”

    The DLEMM – Dominant Liberal Establishment Mass Media isn’t mainstream, Father. The fourth estate wants everyone to think they are mainstream which is simply another page from the playbook of the left. They don’t define what mainstream is so let’s not play by their rules.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    This was exactly what I needed to read today.

  • Andy

    Is it possible he is neither. Perhaps he is a man doing the job called him to do in the best way he can. Perhaps he is calling each of us to look at our lives and do with them the best we can. I think that folks are worrying far to much about what he might change and not looking enough at what he says and how it seems to spring form the teaching of Jesus. Just my strange thoughts for the day.

    • Mary E.

      Not strange at all, Andy, or maybe I just have the same strange thoughts :-).

  • ZuzanaM

    Thank you Fr Longenecker. This is exactly what I see the secular press and secular Catholics are trying to promote about our new Pope Francis. I agree with you that he is not a revolutionary and instead a ‘gentle reformer.’ In fact, I believe he is going to be the embodiment of St Francis of Assisi, bringing about the same kind of renewal that ‘God’s Troubadour’ brought to the Medieval Church. A close study of St Francis reveals that he ‘rebuilt’ the Church without even intending to do so. Inspired by the influence of St Francis, Pope Innocent III called the 4th Lateran Council. From this Council, by the insistence of the Pope, it was declared that all Bishops must instruct their priests to educate the laity about the Catholic Faith in the vernacular. There was no attempt to change the Liturgy or the importance of the priesthood. It simply was a decree to help the laity actualize their Faith. It must also be noted that the Dominican Preachers were a powerful influence, along with the Franciscans.

    Furthermore, if one would read scholarly texts about the Protestant Reformation it is very obvious that it was in and of a very revolutionary time. Hilaire Belloc’s, How the Reformation Happened, is most enlightening; as is the book by a Catholic priest, Martin Luther. The so called Reformation was really an opportune strike by the rising power of the independent ‘state’ powers, princes and aristocracy that supported the Reformers in an attempt to promote their autonomy over and against the Holy Roman Empire. The Reformers became the Popes of the regions or city state where their Church enjoyed the protection of their civil rulers. There is so much fascinating evidence that the Reformation was not really about the Faith or reforming the Catholic Church (all to be found in the history books). One must remember, however, ‘To the Victor Belongs the Spoils”, so be careful not to read the propaganda of the Reformation Revisionists.

  • TomD

    I am not a cradle Catholic, so forgive me if I am not completely accurate in what I am about to say. These are my impressions.

    The Reformation began as a semi-legitimate response to corruption in the Church and that reforms were in fact necessary. There were legitimate theological issues in the Church that needed to be addressed, such as the abuse of indulgences. I also believe that Luther’s initial intent was NOT to establish a separate religion, that specifically came late in his life and more from his followers.

    I am also under the impression that what began as a semi-legitimate religious issue quickly turned into a political issue when the princes of Germany decided to take sides against Rome as much for territory and political control as anything else. Many Germans resented Italian control of Germany, to the extent that it occurred. For these reasons, the Reformation did turn into a political revolution. However, the break from Rome was completely illegitimate and, destroying the unity of the faith, was also unbiblical, somewhat ironic for a faith that claims to be the true, biblical faith. Reform was necessary; revolution and religious division was not.


    “When I say ‘revolution as progress’ the assumption is not only that things move forward through revolution, but that the revolution must, by definition, be a good thing. For the modern secularist, revolution means progress and progress must, by definition, be a move forward.”

    The sexual “revolution” is of the same type. Progressives think it is a step forward, when in fact it is a reversion to the past . . . our pagan past. There is nothing “progressive” about a reversion to a lesser condition . . . the sexual revolution is really an expression of neo-paganism.

    • Magdalene Prodigal

      Luther was an unfaithful priest who broke his vows and created schism. Within 3 years of his tacking the 95 theses on the Wittenberg door, he was writing things like “we must wash our hands with the blood of bishops”. He caused civil war and about a quarter million people died. He continued to be recalcitrant and continually slandered the Pope and the Church. He was NOT a holy man and I have no respect for him and what he caused is still being played out in the tens of thousands of ‘ecclesial communities’ that call themselves Christian but many of which not only do not accept the divinity of Christ but are embracing all sorts of evils. At the very least, each pastor seems to be his own ‘pope’ and has his own interpretation. I know some who go around starting churches…by what authority I wonder.

  • luis

    Pope John might have been a revolutionary, but he well repented rom the big mistake of calling for a council. hile dying, he kept saying, cancel the council, cancel the council, since he discovered all the masonic forces that were willing to dstroy the church from within. Progress and democracy are two deceptive words and all the revolution we have witness in the past 200 years were promoted and financed by the exact same people on top o an evil pyramid. Jesu well identified them in Scripture: the synagogue of satan, those jews who say they are jews, but are lying, together with reformed jews who follow the laws of the Talmud, instead of the Torah. As for Pope Francis and me being a traditional catholic militant (not sedevecantist) my obligation is to support the vicar of Christ. But I have to say I have been feeling uncomfortable with the entire process Benedict to Francis; it was just not normal. More, I get a gut feeling that something is very wrong and I back my idea with the knowledge that these are the end times. I find odd all this excessive conversation about the poor, replacing the Throne (unnecessary move, since it didn’t save any money) or the order to remove a statue of him in argentina. I love humility, but humility has to be genuine and silent, not shown and public. I find strange all the reforms in the Vatican bank, me knowing that no previous Pope was allowed to get near it, since it is heavely controlled by ecclesiastical freemasons. I hope we are not being taken for a ride and what we are seing, is a gradual removal of traditions, to be followed by change of dogma. I worry what the Brazilian apostate, Leonardo Boff, said regarding Francis: that we were being deceived, since he knew well Francis and Francis was a modernist and a lover of he Liberation Theology. May God protect the Pope from erros.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    Reading this posting made me think how we do NOT realize how much a Protestant culture we live in . I think that is why Pope Pius XII has been slandered so much.
    The problem is caused by Martin Luther’s words: “:Here I stand, I can do no other.”
    So Americans, molded by a Protestant-secular culture value loud, flamboyant soap-box oration (even if it costs hundreds of thousands of lives) over quiet, but effective action.

  • Mary E.

    This is an insightful distinction, and we’ve had evidence this week that Pope Francis is a reformer, not a revolutionary, in the announcement that he approved amending “Anglicanorum coetibus” to include those who were baptised Catholic, but remained “uncatechized.” His decision is especially noteworthy because of the anxious speculation which followed a remark by the Archbishop of Canterbury suggesting that Francis might not support the Ordinariate. Whatever he said to the Archbishop, he clearly is not going to do away with the Ordinariate. It’s also worth noting that he tweaked the existing rules rather than making a drastic change. He may turn out to be a more “gentle mover” than many envision.

  • asa2222

    The media sees what it wants to see. I saw absolutely zero mention of the new encyclical in the MSM. Wonder why.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Unfortunately, one of the places one sees this revolutionary spirit the clearest these days in the TLM crowd who so often seem to be sedevacantists in all but name…

  • LeticiaVelasquez

    It is true that Pope Francis is proposing nothing new, nothing that former two popes at least haven’t said constantly. Love the poor, welcome the stranger, live simply.

    Its just that Pope Francis, by living so radically, so visually, by his spartan lifestyle, makes it harder for comfortable Catholics to ignore and we are unhappy that our extravagant lifestyle is suddenly in question. I feel it as I consider my purchases, and I hear grumblings from fellow Catholics.

    I have had two emotional arguments lately with devout Catholic ladies who resent his asking them to pare down their luxuries, or at least my saying this is a good thing for the Church. This is what terrifies me: when devout priests whose blogs have tremendous followings start to disparage what the pope is preaching with his very life in order to preserve a lifestyle which may be a bit too comfy. It only proves him right, we must slim down in order to survive as a Church, to save our very souls. We have become enslaved to comfort which may not last.

    Jesus told the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, that the rich will have to pass through the eye of the needle to enter heaven, folks, this is not original material. We just haven’t seen it lived as closely since Mother Teresa was last on earth. She died in 1997, how much have we forgotten in 16 years?

    • Chris L.

      Francis lives radically? What a joke! He lives in a hotel that would cost any normal person several hundreds of dollars a night to stay in. You want a real saintly pope who actually lived radically? How about Pope St. Pius XII (he is a saint by every measure of the Church but false ecumenism and political correctness on the part of cowardly princes and Vicars) who saved roughly 860,000 Jews during Hitler’s reign? Who slept on planks of wood for weeks on end and would eat nothing but the stale bread from the kitchens and water alone? That’s radical. Francis is hardly radical in any sense of the word.

  • David Zelenka

    Things aren’t so simple as reform or revolution. An event takes a life of its own. The impetus may certainly be the will of an individual or group of individuals. But History has a trajectory. History unfolds in a particular manner. We are not fated, but there is a structure to it. History is the story of man and his sin. The abominable king of History is Satan. It began at the fall and will end when the final ‘day’ is complete. That day is now.

    Yes, under perfect Christianity, the Protestant Reformation shouldn’t have happened. But are we perfect? History unfolded that is what lay beneath the surface. History was ripe for it. The Church was ripe for it. It happened. Now it is the job of the Church to seek the lost, like Christ and his sheep, and bring the lost back to the fold. The lost cannot come on their own accord. They are ‘baaing’. They long for their master.

    But sadly, the wolves are in sheep clothing. They are mixed in with the 99. And when the lost come close they bar their teeth. I’ve seen it from priest and parishoner alike. It’s dark.

    Our poor Pope Francis seems to understand all this. He understand the only way back. And the only way back is by becoming destitutely poor. The Church is poor within History yet rich within the Kingdom. It’s the only way back to Christ. Thank God.

    My hope is that Pope Francis is known as neither a reformer nor a revolutionary and that he is seen as the true Vicar of Christ. Christ was neither.

    “And the rich young man went away sad.”

    “Please, Let that not be me, Christ Jesus.”

  • Chris L.

    I simply laughed at the title of this blog entry. Francis is neither reformer nor revolutionary. He doesn’t have the backbone of his predecessor but loves the camera like the pre-Benedict XVI iconoclasts.

    • Will

      “He doesn’t have the backbone of his predessor …”

      What are you referring to?

  • Adsphe

    It’s all about liberalisation theology driven by ideology more than quantifying the word into being! In the real sense of the word, there are no male or female, sex or genders. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ when Jesus became man. That’s something Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI started and Pope Francis continued…

  • Will

    There are liturgical differences between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. We will have to wait to see what effect, if any, this will have on the Mass.

  • Pofarmer

    “They had to destroy the whole thing and start again.”

    Unfortunately, they missd a spot.

  • Rebecca

    This is one of the most profound articles I have read regarding the Protestant Reformation. Thank you, Fr. Longenecker.