Humble or Spectacular?

Pope Francis says that Christ’s way is simple and humble:

The Pope noted that “one of the three temptations of Jesus in the desert” was to create a spectacle. Satan invites Him to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple so that, seeing the miracle, the people might believe in Him. “The Lord, instead, is revealed in simplicity, in humility,” he said. “It would do us good this Lent,” the Pope said, “to consider how the Lord has helped us in our lives, and how the Lord has led us onward. We will find that the Lord has always done this with simple things.”

He concluded, “This is how the Lord acts: He does things simply. He speaks silently to you, to the heart. Let us remember in our lives the many time we have felt these things: the humility of God is His style; the simplicity of God is His style. And even in the liturgical celebration, in the sacraments, what is beautiful is that which manifests the humility of God, and not the worldly spectacle. It would do us good to journey through our life and to consider the many times the Lord has visited us with His grace, and always with this humble style, the style He calls us, too, to have: humility.”

Do simple and humble come to mind when visiting the churches in Rome?


58 thoughts on “Humble or Spectacular?

  1. Yeah, I agree. His remarks are rather ironic. On the one hand, I agree that God has moved and done things in “simple” ways (think “small,” like using a shepherd boy to slay a giant warrior, conscripting a fugitive refugee from Egyptian aristocracy with a speech impediment to lead a massive slave exodus and to become the bearer of the Law for them, etc.), it’s hard to equate Rome, with its overarching bureaucracy, its penchant for over-the-top architecture, with anything simple and humble. So, while it’s easy for him to say something like this when are the changes going to begin?


  2. Does Francis amble around the Vatican with pangs of guilt and embarrassment (as I might at Tullian’s church or RC’s reformed cathedral — both in FL) or does the pontifical charism bless and make holy/tolerable the supposed cognitive dissonance?


  3. CW, I still think he’s aristocratic just not european. He’s very much a Vat II RC. Ratzinger was personally uncomfortable almost immediately with the cultural-pastoral changes that the Vat II revolution inaugurated whereas Francis embraced it and is still trying to move the ball forward. Francis is varyingly toying with the Roman Curia and walloping them on the political front. He knows how to get the moral high ground on them and utilize it politically. It’ll be a money and vocations game at the end of the day. I don’t know how Francis is doing on that score.


  4. Low Church life, low liturgy is probably a big reason that people who are raised Protestant begin to look for something grander or fuller. The community of saints that Rome protects (for lack of a better term) by way of liturgical calendar creates a family, and a family of belonging and old, however imperfect.

    Rome has the added advantage of having no suspicion of the Protestant who may show up for Mass.
    A RC, especially one on in years as one, who visits a Reformed (it is Rome or Geneva) church is held in suspicion that no Protestant faces in similar circumstances. I think this is because the Reformed either see themselves or desire to be an elect plucked anew and unattached to all the saints and sinners of the old family, the old faith, the old life.

    The RC in a Reformed church, trying to understand how to live the Reformed faith has to monitor herself against making the sign of the cross. Any slip up seems negatively noted. If she can’t or doesn’t want to cease because to cease is to pretend her mother and father didn’t mold her belief in and affection for Jesus using sign of the cross, then the suspicion grows and not just against her but possibly against the pastor who is trying to help her. There are no dead in her life to leave to the other dead to bury. But there is no place for her in the Reformed congregation because she’ll never be one of them. And that will end only in Heaven. We’ve been apart too long to mend this fence. By the way, DGH, I like the idea of ordinary glory. I could bake every day!

    I was raised in a Presbyterian town. The Presbbies’ church is a marvelous structure of burnished sand stone (Buckingham Palace is made of Medina sandstone too) with a round, large stained-glass window that I understand is the symbol of the Huguenots and which represents The Beatitudes.

    And my own thoughts on the whole of life from economics to ethics is more Weber than papal and curia. It beats pilgrimages to Compostela, ideological, arbitrary and ultimately futile restraint on technological advance or progress, and lastly, an inbred, bucktoothed and shipwrecked Christianity.


  5. MLD — are you positive that there are no theological reasons at work here?

    Why should a RC feel comfortable in a Presbyterian church? We don’t believe the same things or worship in the same manner.

    For example, Reformed worship does not self-describe as low church. Rather, reformed folk worship according to the Regulative Principle of Worship, which states that we may only worship God in the manner in which he has commanded us to worship him.

    Thus, the Reformed do not cross themselves, sing psalms in worship, and (the more consistent ones) do not use instruments.

    You might object to these practices as too “low church” but know that at one time the Western Church worshiped in a very similar manner. For example, instruments were not introduced in worship in the Western church until the 13th Century, I believe and I understand that they are still not used in the Eastern Orthodox church.

    I haven’t even gotten to issues like: justification, the sacraments, Marian theology, the veneration of saints, prayer, and so on.

    If a RC were to feel comfortable in a Reformed church, then there is something very wrong in that church. It is good that a RC should feel uncomfortable because we believe radically different things… and because RC theology is heretical. Just had to get that in.


  6. Mad Hungarian,

    Quite a few EO churches use instruments, albeit Eastern-style instruments. Flutes, pipes, etc., are fairly common, especially amongst the Antiochians.

    Are you saying that the Western Church, at some point, didn’t cross themselves or sing the Psalms? Gestures such as kneeling and practicing the sign of the cross are pretty ancient.

    I dunno, do you guys think a highly decorated Lutheran church is dangerous? I see it as a teaching tool. It sure taught me a lot when I was a kid.

    A picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe says a lot, too. As does a bare wall. Things get messy.


  7. Honest question – how much of the OT temple worship is included in classic RWP? Obviously sacrificing animals is no longer necessary, but otherwise there’s a lot in there about grand architectural plans, craftsmen, artistic designs, precious metals & gems, incense, lutes, flutes, trumpets, tambourines, etc., etc.


  8. MH, of course it’s theological but the sign of the cross isn’t a testament against all that you hold to be the truth.

    I know I don’t belong to the Reformed faith or in a Reformed church but when I was a visitor I was trying to find the truth.

    I don’t mind that I’m not acceptable because in the search I found that my formation was at complete odds with the formation of the Reformed. It’s the way that it is. It can’t change because we are different faiths.

    We’re connected in a warped way because Calvin was in the Roman Catholic communion before he left and called others to believe and worship as he believed and worshipped.

    Luther, for me, remains a justly pissed-off Catholic boy. And it was his love of the faith that nurtured him that gave him the strength of character to take on the pope and anyone else that stood in his way. He would have said to me in my struggle, face your doubts, remain loyal to your conscience, say your prayers and hold on. The sign of the cross would not have caused him to hold me in suspicion.

    Protestants always seemed aware of my existence as a RC, not always was angst at the center of that awareness but a lot of times it was. I rarely thought about them except that I knew at one time we warred and warred and warred.

    Take care.


  9. WDO, the whole of the temple cult is subsumed in and by the Lord’s Supper, just like baptism replaces circumcision. And don’t you think Paul might said so if were supposed to retain the old model? What was his general disposition towards those who tried to cling to OT requirements?


  10. How can one NOT bend the knee to a guy named Cw il Unificatorio?

    Seriously, who are you people (emoticon).


  11. MLD,

    I think you bring up an interesting point about historic practices, such as crossing oneself, or kneeling in worship. Yes, you are correct that there is rather ancient precedent for some of these practices, and in pointing out that these practices can and have been meaningful to Christian worshipers down through the ages. Not all Protestants have abandoned them, I know that at least some Lutherans and Anglicans still cross themselves, and use kneelers in their worship.

    As I understand it crossing has to do with commemorating, or remembering one’s baptism, and that those who kneel claim they are simply following a biblical practice. As I was wading through whether I would become Lutheran or Reformed, I wondered why Reformed Christians dropped these practices. I didn’t quite understand the Regulative Principal at the time, but found myself drawn more to Reformed piety.

    I think the Mad Hungarian aptly described the RPW, and I’ll add just this. So much of the Reformation was about recovering Scripture in the confessional and practical life of the church. This (owing a lot to the RPW) has lead to a mode of worship that is Word-centric. Traditions have developed, changed, and sometimes fractured during the course of the history of the church, but the Word has remained the same. Even if we have vastly divergent understandings of what the Word teaches, we have a stable and authoritative source of what God has said.

    While I can appreciate traditions such as crossing oneself to recall one’s baptism – it kind of becomes overkill when we see boxers invoke the reality of their baptism before they bash each-others brains in, or when a football player scores a touchdown as if one’s baptism lends any significance to these events. Which is to say, those communions that become more tradition-centric run the risk of seeing their traditions drift further and further from the biblical moorings that they were intended to be attached to, and can baffle the consciences of those who cannot see a connection to the commands of Scripture. Reformed Christianity might seem odd in the current cultural context that values spiritual practices simply because there is some sentiment we attach to them, but I do think it frees those of us who hold to it, precisely because of its austerity and insistence on seeking warrant from Scripture to inform what we must (and must not) do as a worshiping community.


  12. Seth — I wasn’t sure about the EO, thanks for that. Wikipedia said that EO services typically don’t have instruments, which is what I understood as well, but I haven’t done any research on it or anything. Is the use of instruments common among all the EO churches?

    What I said above was that in the Western church, instruments weren’t used in worship until about the 13th century. I don’t know anything about the history of the sign of the cross, but it is certainly not a Reformed practice.

    Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confessions has some good chapters on worship and the history of worship.

    MLD — Lutherans and Reformed folk differ over the theology of worship. The Reformed practice the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW), the Lutherans don’t.

    Also, just to clarify, uncomfortableness is to be expected when people of other faiths or non-believers visit a church — but that should be due to theological differences, not to rudeness or anger from the congregation. But what are you gonna do… people suck.


  13. Jed,
    Thanks for taking the time to write your response. It was gracious and well done.

    Just to clarify too, no one was rude or angry they just seemed suspicious of me. I understood it then and I still do.


  14. Jed, if the RPW was a way of recovering biblical worship, one might wonder why the absence of kneeling in divine worship. Isn’t the Bible fraught with bowing as a physical posture in worship? And speaking of the religious PDA of athletes, funny how when Tim Tebow kneels evangies cheer but would never think of doing so in as an assembly Sunday morning.


  15. “… And speaking of the religious PDA of athletes, funny how when Tim Tebow kneels evangies cheer but would never think of doing so in as an assembly Sunday morning …”

    Another gem of a comment! Man, they’re coming in fast and furious today! Must be the onset of Spring. ‘Course, I keep a journal of these so I can pull ’em out whenever the need arises.


  16. Zrim,

    Jed, if the RPW was a way of recovering biblical worship, one might wonder why the absence of kneeling in divine worship. Isn’t the Bible fraught with bowing as a physical posture in worship?

    Maybe someone with a better understanding of the history of Reformed worship could answer why Reformed churches dispensed with kneelers. Kneeling is a posture frequently referred to in worship (e.g. Rev 4), and sometimes in prayer (Eph 3), even though the typical posture for prayer in the OT was standing with hands opened toward heaven. I suspect that Reformed churches rejected the notion that worship demanded worshipers to kneel whether in prayer or praise, so we probably weren’t too keen on kneelers – just a guess though. If I had my druthers, I’d like to see more fixed liturgy in Reformed churches, especially surrounding the Lord’s Supper – I am particular to Calvin’s liturgy here, and think the sursum corda “lift up your hearts: we lift them to the Lord…” is a powerful reminder of the fact that we partake of a heavenly meal in God’s presence.

    And speaking of the religious PDA of athletes, funny how when Tim Tebow kneels evangies cheer but would never think of doing so in as an assembly Sunday morning.

    I always saw it as the evangelical version of crossing oneself. Not sure how scoring TD’s equates to devotion and piety. But, I have been known to Tebow after scratching out a particularly good post at OL, or when I nail comparative profitability ratios for my finance courses.


  17. My understanding is that kneeling was for private prayer and standing for corporate, but presbyterians eventually dispensed with standing because ‘murica.


  18. This might help clarify the Lutheran use of the sign of the cross.

    I have found it a helpful reminder that we bear the name of Christ, and when God sees us, he sees Christ (and therefore, the cross, the substitutionary atonement, etc,).

    “A picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe says a lot, too. As does a bare wall. Things get messy.”
    What do those silk trees and bushes say? (Sorry, don’t know if Presbyterians have the same artificial foliage behind the pulpit Reformed Baptists do)

    MLD, enjoyed your thoughts here


  19. Zrim and Jed, what’s wrong with standing? You stand in court when the judge enters. Plus, you don’t need kneelers or more space between pews and so can accommodate all the crowds thronging to RPW worship.


  20. DG,

    accommodate all the crowds thronging to RPW worship.

    Are you worshipping in New York?

    We do stand for scripture and benediction at my church, some even hold their hands out (at their waist) for receiving the benediction.

    And Zrim, are you advocating that we should kneel in the church? In theory I support that but growing up in happy-clappy Evangelicalism I’ve seen it done poorly (viz. every summer camp ever). As much as I dislike those who say “let’s be the early church!” I do see things like Paul kneeling down with his fellow Christians and praying on the beach. I’d probably think they were Charismatics if I saw someone at the beach doing something like that.


  21. If there’s two distinctives to refuse from the RCC process (the two or so times I’m in their buildings every three years) that make me grateful to embrace the Protestant faith, it’s for sure mass and kneeling.

    Also grateful for not standing for long stretches of time, as the Orthodox do, due to the destruction of key joints in my body from youthful pursuits of sports.


  22. In the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Christians sit to sing and stand to pray.

    In the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Christians stand to sing and stand to pray.

    But all the other Reformed/Presbyterian churches around here seem to stand to sing and sit to pray, except for the benediction (even though David in 2 Sam 7:18 is (I think?) the only example in Scripture of someone sitting to pray – and only because he is stunned by what he has just heard). Not sure why, except that everyone else does too.

    In the Gospel Halls around here, people don’t even sit down after the closing prayer (not a benediction) – they just turn around and walk straight out.

    Is there any consistency out there on head coverings, though? I always find it odd when advocates of the RPW skip over 1 Cor 11.


  23. Darryl, nothing’s wrong with standing (or sitting). The question is what’s wrong with kneeling? It’s done when ordaining officers. Why not among worshiping members?


  24. Nate, agreed but anything can be done poorly. I’m also an advocate of hand raising, but only when done in unison and in response to being bidden, i.e. the dialogical principle. Curse be all extemporaneousness.


  25. Kneel or no?

    Seems more should be placed on whether one’s heart is in the right place, rather than quibble over the right or wrong posture, but isn’t that always the case (so I’m not saying much here).

    Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

    I personally prefer standing.


  26. FC Scots stand to pray, sit to sing. Some fundies are very showy about requiring everyone to stand while the bible (pre)text is read in a service. This is no great inconvenience since it’s usually about two verses and only happens once.


  27. I wonder if kneeling is absent some Protestant worship as a reaction against kneeling before the Eucharist or even images in other traditions. Understandable, but also the same reasoning others use wrt infant baptism among the Reformed, i.e. haven’t shaken off all the Romanism. Gong.


  28. Zrim, think Puritans objecting to kneeling. We live in an English-speaking country. The Puritans birthed or had links to most of the Anglo-American Protestantisms that became the mainline here. So if you want to know the objections to kneeling, go back to the divines between 1570 and 1670. That’s my hunch.


  29. Z, it was on one of your facebook posts, explaining who that is that you carry around when you post comments here in blogs. Peace to you.

    I’ll leave you be, come find our church (but don’t find me and make me your friend, I won’t accept).

    Onward and upward.

    Oh, and Sean, nice Facebook avatar!


  30. D.G., CW –
    Sorry, I was thinking far more specifically and wasn’t clear.

    When Seth mentioned “highly-decorated Lutheran churches” my mind went to Miller’s “which is not warranted in Scripture, either by direct precept or example, or by good and sufficient inference” and that the Israelite temple certainly constitutes an example of high-decoration, ergo permissible (but not commanded) under the RPW.

    Is your position that since the temporal dwelling place of God’s spirit has moved to us, then the temple can’t be used as an RPW precept or example? Is that a typical RPW view?


  31. Those are some blurred lines in RC but it’s interesting what distinctions he bothers to make. Who am I to judge?, continues to judge the Trads and the judgement is consistently punitive.


  32. From Sean’s link.

    Vatican II is considered to be one of the defining moments in the history of the Catholic church — the point at which the clerical hierarchy accepted that some centuries-old ways of thinking and acting had to be jettisoned if the institution was to remain relevant as the sixties began to swing.

    Isn’t this like Democrats trying to go back to JFK’s Shangri La? Why not reform like from tuh-DAY? Or do you want a mulligan for JPII and BXVI?


  33. Hey, he’s wrestling with the homosexual spectrum of opportunities, Economic inequalities, judicial representation for the poor and he’s winsome. Keller wants to be him when he grows up. TKNY does have the cache of Manhattan but the Pope may better exemplify what it means to be of and for the city- he actually has his own.


  34. Even on women’s issues, he owns TKNY. We’ve got female Eucharistic ministers and the Burkian reform of the Network under Ratzinger is on a shelf in Malta. Could Cross be more out of step with the pope and papal charism than to be aligned with Burke?


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