Remarks of Pope Francis

In the last congregation meeting before the conclave, Cardinal Bergoglio made some impromptu remarks that apparently very much impressed the other cardinals.  The Cardinal of Havana, Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, asked Bergoglio if he spoke from a written text.  He had not, but the next day Bergoglio gave him a set of handwritten notes which he said were his best attempt at reconstructing what he had said.  With the new Pope’s permission, Lucas Ortega has made them public, and a translation has been given by Sandro Magister (who also recounts the details).  Here is the text:

Reference has been made to evangelization. This is the Church’s reason for being. “The sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing” (Paul VI). It is Jesus Christ himself who, from within, impels us.

1) Evangelizing implies apostolic zeal. Evangelizing presupposes in the Church the “parresia” of coming out from itself. The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographical, but also existential: those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice, those of ignorance and of the absence of faith, those of thought, those of every form of misery.

2) When the Church does not come out from itself to evangelize it becomes self-referential and gets sick (one thinks of the woman hunched over upon herself in the Gospel). The evils that, in the passing of time, afflict the ecclesiastical institutions have a root in self-referentiality, in a sort of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is standing at the threshold and calling. Evidently the text refers to the fact that he stands outside the door and knocks to enter. . . But at times I think that Jesus may be knocking from the inside, that we may let him out. The self-referential Church presumes to keep Jesus Christ within itself and not let him out.

3) The Church, when it is self-referential, without realizing it thinks that it has its own light; it stops being the “mysterium lunae” and gives rise to that evil which is so grave, that of spiritual worldliness (according to De Lubac, the worst evil into which the Church can fall): that of living to give glory to one another. To simplify, there are two images of the Church: the evangelizing Church that goes out from itself; that of the “Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidenter proclamans” [the Church that devoutly listens to and faithfully proclaims the Word of God – editor’s note], or the worldly Church that lives in itself, of itself, for itself. This should illuminate the possible changes and reforms to be realized for the salvation of souls.

4) Thinking of the next Pope: a man who, through the contemplation of Jesus Christ and the adoration of Jesus Christ, may help the Church to go out from itself toward the existential peripheries, that may help it to be the fecund mother who lives “by the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

I am going to eschew comment initially as I have to get back to work, but am very much interested in what other people see as important in these few lines.

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  • Sacerdotus

    These are words I thought I would not hear, especially from someone who is now the bishop of Rome. I am excited and I will do all I can to go to the peripheries of the world I live in.

  • Robert Martin

    “Missional” catholicism? Wow. 😉

    Just a light-hearted jab from this Anabaptist over here… I would say that these words from Francis echo words from Leslie Newbigin, David Fitch, Scot McKnight, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, JR Woodward… and many others in the Protestant and Anabaptist circles calling even our own denominational flavors to give up the stance of bringing people to us and instead turning around to the stance of going out to where Christ is needed…

  • dismasdolben

    #2 is an implicit condemnation of Benedict XVI’s notion of a “winnowing away” of the Church in order to purify it. #3 sounds to me to be skeptical of “ressourcement.”

    The more I hear about Pope Francis, the more I am convinced that even his own hand-picked college of cardinals realized that the pontificate of Ratzinger was a disaster.

    • Dante Aligheri

      I’m not certain that this is necessarily aimed at Pope Benedict XVI’s “smaller, purer” Church idea. Now, I agree that these two Popes see the world in very different ways. Yet, when Pope Benedict talked of “winnowing away,” he was referring to precisely a dispensing of the worldly Church to one which would be of one voluntary sacrifice to follow Christ instead of being merely culturally enforced or even politically enforced. Pope Benedict, I think, saw the Church as St. Hildegard did. In her days, the Church was emeshed in Western culture and became diluted by political infighting. However, she envisioned – not unlike Joachim of Fiore or St. Bonaventure – a Church moving towards Christ where the Pope would be stripped of his worldly pretensions. For them, the Church needed purgation in a kind of Babylonian Exile.

      She approved of the Cluniac and Gregorian Reforms but somewhat lamented the spirit that was being lost, too, in worldliness.

      Now, I think Pope Francis in many ways embodies this very Hildegardian vision – not something unlike the Spiritual Franciscans might see. Now I’m not suggesting that Pope Francis recapitulates Christ in the same way the Spirituals saw St. Francis of Assisi, a new incarnation of sorts and herald of the Age of the Holy Spirit (a heretical movement, I know; but I am nonetheless fascinated by its intentions). That would be premature, pretensious, and probably heretical. Yet, they saw in St. Francis a new Christ – which is really what every Christian should be and many see in Pope Francis right now. That really should not be remarkable in our world; yet, this great thirst clearly sees holiness in the moment, which will fade with time. Still, sometimes in my more medieval moments I think it’s very ironic and hopeful that we have a Pope Francis.

      But my point is that Pope Benedict XVI’s own writings suggest that he was not adverse to this vision. I guess I’m just tired of wedging discontinuity between the two (and I’m not criticizing you for that but stating something in general – largely at the media, “all” media, “right” and “left”).

      Pope Benedict XVI achieved a lot. Yes, he sometimes lacked administrative acumen, but he was coming from a professor’s background. His mission, whether he achieved it or not remains to be seen, seems to be continued engagement of the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition with modern thinking, especially in Europe. That was his world – something different from Pope Francis’ formative world. Every Pope brings himself into the job. Pope Francis is who he is because that’s just Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio trying to follow God, and Pope Benedict XVI remained who he was before his pontificate as during it.

      I was equally struck by the good article by the way.


      • Julia Smucker

        Excellent analysis, Dante. I share your frustration with “wedging discontinuity” and have resonated with some of Pope Benedict’s ecclesiological remarks for similar reasons that I resonated with those of Pope Francis. Admittedly, the “smaller and purer” notion can veer dangeously close to Donatism, but at least initially I read Benedict’s comments about how the Church may be getting smaller and maybe that’s OK (in Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, I think) as saying that the Church can learn a valuable lesson in humility from being marginalized, and that we as a Church must learn to relinquish worldly power and prestige.

        Bonus points to you for tying in my patroness.

  • Julia Smucker

    I am struck by his use of the idea of “worldliness” in contrast to “the evangelizing Church that goes out from itself”; it is a self-referential Church that is “worldly”. This blows my Anabaptist-formed mind, because when Anabaptists have tended toward the self-referential, they have done so by defining themselves in contradistinction with the “worldly” rest of the world. The pope’s remarks turn that distinction on its head. I may have to chew on this for awhile.

    • dismasdolben

      “Worldly” can be quite intellectual, quite academic and very, very doctrinaire–pull of pride in its “purity.” Ever suffered at the hands of academic politicians in a university setting? If so, then you’d know what I mean. Ratzinger was the sort of person who’d make a Charlie Curran “redundant” in his university job, and tell him that it was for his own, and the university’s “good.” He is rumoured to have spent more time on the phone to Catholic University securing Curran’s dismissal than he did investigating pedophilia in his Munich archdiocese.

    • Kerberos

      “…it is a self-referential Church that is “worldly”.”

      ## It’s surprising that is surprising; worldliness comes in a thousand forms, like this: “…when Anabaptists have tended toward the self-referential, they have done so by defining themselves in contradistinction with the “worldly” rest of the world.” Begging for trouble, that is. It’s hard to see how a “self-referential” Church can be self-forgetful. Mgr. R. A. Knox has a lot of sense about these issues in his book “Enthusiasm”, which has a lot to say about matters of ascetical theology like these.

      (And unlike so many Catholic authors, he is never unkind – that alone would make his book worth its weight in gold.)

  • mjsanem

    Two observations from a first time poster.

    1) I think the key to understanding his idea of “spiritual worldliness” is Henri de Lubac, who Francis mentions. De Lubac’s ecclesiology (that he wrote while he was basically silenced and censored by the pre-Vatican II church) views the church as finding it’s spiritual center precisely when it is most active in the world, and not when it is focused on itself: “To me, [the church] with all its royal majesty and heavenly splendour, is something to be seen at the very heart of earthly reality, right at the core of all the confusion and all the mischances which are, inevitably, involved in its mission to men [sic].” It’s important to note that when John XXIII lifted de Lubac’s censor and invited him to Vatican II, this book (Splendor of the Church) would provide the structure for Lumen Gentium.

    2) In light of that understanding, I think “Spiritual worldliness” refers to those who, as dismasdolben mentions, believes the church becomes holy through a winnowing away of its “worldly” members rather than by fulfilling its Christ-given mission in the world. A “spiritually worldly” church would be so impressed with its own holiness (and high baroque fashion sense) that it would let the world, figuratively and literally, go to hell. This is basically what happened in Europe while Henri de Lubac was writing in the 30s and 40s, the self-referential church stood idly by and debated neoscholasticism while world wars and genocide ravaged Europe.

    • mjsanem

      Or, as in his homily today for the Chrism Mass, the Pope compares the church to a jar of oil: “The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.”

    • Ronald King


  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    “Existential peripheries” ?? “”Theological Narcissism” ?? Maybe it is possible that the solipsism that so many of us outsiders could see is going to be palliated or even gradually ended. That would be good for the world, and not just Catholics!

    But you can be sure, at the same time, that much of the Curia is responding en espanol:

    “Consejo no pedido, consejo mal oido.”

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Except of course they would be saying this in heavily Roman accented Italian….

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        LOL. But Argentinian Spanish is already accented like Italian!! Perfectamundo!

  • Ronald King

    Theological narcissism has many implications but one which stands out for me due to this disorder is the difficulty to develop empathy and consequently being unable to engage the world through the vulnerability of that gift.

  • Kerberos

    “The evils that, in the passing of time, afflict the ecclesiastical institutions have a root in self-referentiality, in a sort of theological narcissism.”

    ## When Enda Kenny attacked the “narcissism” of the Vatican, his comments were not well received at all by some Catholics. Whether one’s words are accepted, seems very often to depend on who one is. It’s really sad that this is so.

    “The Vatican had earlier recalled its ambassador to Ireland after Prime Minister Enda Kenny on July 20 denounced what he described as “the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism … the narcissism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day” in the wake of a critical government report on the rural Colyne diocese, which found that abuse allegations had been mishandled as recently as 2009.”