Two images and the opening of Evangelii Guadium – UPDATED

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”
- Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

I haven’t written about the pope’s exhortation, yet, because I read a few lines and end up writing 300-500 words in personal notes.

At this rate, I’ll never finish.

Ross Douthat has written the best piece I’ve yet read
on the papal exhortation and the “Francis is a Commie” reactions of some:

It’s true that there is far more continuity between Francis and Benedict than media accounts suggest. But the new pope clearly intends to foreground the church’s social teaching in new ways, and probably seeks roughly the press coverage he’s getting.

It’s also true that Francis’s framework is pastoral rather than political. But his plain language tilts leftward in ways that no serious reader can deny.

Finally, it’s true that there is no Catholic position on, say, the correct marginal tax rate, and that Catholics are not obliged to heed the pope when he suggests that global inequality is increasing when the statistical evidence suggests otherwise.

But the church’s social teaching is no less an official teaching for allowing room for disagreement on its policy implications. And for Catholics who pride themselves on fidelity to Rome, the burden is on them — on us — to explain why a worldview that inspires left-leaning papal rhetoric also allows for right-of-center conclusions.

That explanation rests, I think, on three ideas.

Read it all to catch those ideas, and don’t miss Douthat’s own faith-filled exhortation at the end. It’s the best piece you’ll read today, or perhaps for several days to come, on the subject.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Roughcoat

    Response to the Pope (see

    “First, throughout history, free-market capitalism has been a great driver of economic growth, and … economic growth has been a great driver of a more moral society.

    “Second, “trickle-down” is not a theory but a pejorative used by those on
    the left to describe a viewpoint they oppose. It is equivalent
    to those on the right referring to the “soak-the-rich” theories of the
    left. It is sad to see the pope using a pejorative, rather than
    encouraging an open-minded discussion of opposing perspectives.”

    Bottom line: He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  • Clint

    After the rubbish the Pope has written, I tune out. Finished, done, end of the road!

  • Thinkling

    Yes, Douthat’s piece is one of the best, in particular in noting how both extremes, the nothing-has-changed and the everything-has-changed crowds, are both partially right, but that both sides need to recognize the both/and scenario they find themselves in. This is no doubt a symptom of the ruts that American intellectual templates confer on folks if they are lazy or cynical.

    A personal aside. I note the prescience of both his book Bad Religion and Elizabeth’s book Strange Gods. Both are easy reads, not too long, but both slightly unnerving — you hope what they say is wrong whether you actually think it is or not. Yet after reading either, I noticed the world was simply chuck full of events which demonstrated their points. To bring this back to EG, I cannot think of one broad criticism of it yet which cannot be observed to be the writer’s discomfort with having the document asking them to move beyond their own image of what Catholicism is, be it either distorted or incomplete or whatever. The only exceptions to these are less broad, simpler criticisms, e.g. get a better translation, or wishes for more specific examples of general statements.

  • Gail Finke

    I read in Fr. Z’s post that the “trickle down” part was not well translated, and that it was meant to say that people should not expect that a “trickle-down” type program will automatically and by itself generate economic prosperity for all (which some DO think, just as some liberals really do believe that the right mix of government programs will automatically generate economic prosperity for all). Nothing is automatic!

  • Nicholas Haggin

    Last Wednesday, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote a column for On The Square that contains the following bit of rueful retrospection on the late-2000s financial crisis:

    “What it turns out is that economists actually know very, very little, and that a lot
    of what we thought we knew turned out to be wrong. Given this hard-to-swallow fact, the prophetic voice of the Church that reminds us of what must be the ends of economic activity is very salutary.”

    The ends of economic activity referred to, of course, are the flourishing of the human person and human community, including what the Church has called “the preferential option for the poor.”

    I’m a computer programmer by training. For many computations, there is an efficient method for the general case which behaves poorly in certain special cases. Special cases are annoying to the programmer, as they force compromises into grand and elegant designs, but a proper piece of software must handle them correctly, no matter what. I think a Christian view of market economics is analogous. The market is merely an instrument, the general case; the people who participate in it can (and do) make choices that exceed the system’s ability to compensate, which create a multitude of special cases that must be resolved, whether by law, by personal virtue, by generosity, or a combination of all of them.

  • Tom

    Where did the second image come from?

  • Suburbanbanshee

    The English translation has little in common with the Spanish original. Here’s a more literal translation:

    “The great risk of the present world, with its multiple and overwhelming opportunities for consumption, is an
    individualist sadness that wells up from a comfortable and greedy heart, from the sick search for superficial pleasures, from the isolated conscience. When the interior life closes itself off into its own interests — then there’s no room for everybody else; then the poor don’t enter in; then one doesn’t hear the voice of God; then one doesn’t feel the sweet joy of His love; then one’s heart doesn’t throb with His enthusiasm to do good. Believers also run this certain and permanent risk. Many fall into it, and turn themselves into resentful, whiny, lifeless beings. That is not the option of a worthy and full life; that is not God’s desire for us; that is not the life in the Spirit which wells up from the heart of Christ resurrected.”

    Francis’ rhetorical style is very strong and direct at times; the English translation tends to soften it. His strong, constantly repeated images of a spring of water welling up from its fountainhead (fuente, manantial, brotar) and roads (caminos) almost disappear in the English. OTOH, when Francis adds softening phrases, the English translation often elides them, or adds derogatory adjectives. Also, there are important differences in how the Scriptures are quoted in the original Spanish version. I encourage those who can read Spanish to read Francis’ actual words.