That is the conclusion that has settled after some time of absorbing Evangelii Gaudium, namely, that Pope Francis may not be a liberationist, a liberal, or a Vatican II rebel, but he is doing something different from his predecessors. (As if it were everyone but the magisterium’s job to read the tea leaves of papal pronouncements.) And it — the consensus on Pope Francis — does involve the economy (stupid).
First, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry comes straight out with criticisms of Francis’ understanding of economics, but then applauds the church’s capacity to create synergy between the permanent things of the gospel and the passing circumstances of this world:
. . . it’s simply not true that if we in the West stopped wasting food kids in Africa would have it. It wasn’t true when my parents told me so** to make me clean my plate, and it’s still not true. And pretending it is is, well, infantile. And not in a Matthew 18 way. And we can “rescue” this Francis comment by elevating it to the theological level, by saying that by wasting food we are, in a powerful sense, being ungrateful towards God’s good creation and being selfish. And that perhaps if we rid ourselves of this ungratefulness we will be made holier by grace and better able to follow Jesus’ command to feed the hungry. And I believe this is true! But that’s not what Francis is saying or, at the very least, it’s not only what he’s saying.
Second, it shows that so much can be accomplished at the level of social doctrine without getting into econo-philosophical debates about “free markets” and “trickle-down economics.” You don’t need to reform or reinterpret or innovate Catholic social doctrine to say that corruption of government officials is scandalous.
Third, because if there is any institution in the world that should put this issue front and center, it’s the Catholic Church. First because, as I’ve said, it’s already well within the bounds of Tradition and flows naturally from the Gospel.
In the Bible I read, Jesus says things about food and hunger that make me think correlating the gospel’s spiritual and eschatological categories with physical hunger and food is not the best interpretation (but I am only a Protestant with an opinion):
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, s“Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” . . . 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6)
But apparently, as John Allen reports, Pope Francis is more on Gobry’s side than mine:
. . . Francis had already given himself a major birthday present 24 hours before by shaking up the membership of the Congregation for Bishops in order to lay the groundwork for a new generation of “Francis bishops.”
In the United States, attention was understandably focused on the nomination of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and the effective removal of Cardinal Raymond Burke, president of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s supreme court. Putting in the moderate Wuerl and taking the strongly conservative Burke off couldn’t help but seem a signal of the kind of bishop Francis intends to elevate in the United States.
As pope, however, Francis is responsible not just for the 6 percent of the world’s Catholic population that lives in the United States, but the whole shooting match, 1.2 billion faithful all over the planet.
In that regard, it’s worth looking at the other appointments Francis made Monday to the Congregation for Bishops — 30 in all, including 12 new members and confirmations for 18 prelates who already sat on the body.
For the sake of analysis, two assumptions need to be stipulated:
The 12 new members best reflect Francis’ personal touch, given that most of the 18 confirmations were for Vatican personnel whose jobs generally entitle them to a seat at the table;
The kind of man Francis picks for the Congregation for Bishops is, in effect, a proxy for the kind of bishops he wants this panel to identify.
If those postulates are correct, we can draw some early conclusions about what a “Francis bishop” looks like — ideological moderates with the broad support of their fellow bishops and a real commitment to the social Gospel.
(Allen goes on to comment on the Pope’s specific choices for bishop.)
Arguably the most sobering assessment comes from James Schall, a figure well regarded (and rightly so) by conservative Roman Catholics. Schall is as cautious as he is careful:
. . . if I am asked what is the overall impression left by this Exhortation, I have to say that it is very much “this-worldly” oriented. It points horizontally, not vertically. The inner life of the Godhead is not much spoken of. When the Father is mentioned, it is always in the context of the love of the neighbor whom God loves in Christ. Unlike Benedict in Spe Salvi, there is little attention given to “eternal life.” When Francis mentions the “kingdom of God,” he does not, as one would expect, cite Augustine. He mentions actual cities and is rather surprised by them. When Augustine talked of “the City of God,” he said that it began among us, but could not be achieved in this world. No existing city would ever be this Kingdom. Augustine, with good reason, was leery of the ambitions of the cities of this world.
Of course, this emphasis on actual cities is Aristotelian. We are social and political animals. What concerns Francis, if I might put it that way, is the second great commandment. He obviously does not deny the first, the love of God. But Francis’ attention is given to God’s love as it exists among us. But he thinks not enough response is given to it. He wants to improve the world by emphasizing the joy of Christianity that we can experience in our lives and worship. The love of neighbor is an active thing. This pope believes in action. He talks of contemplation at times, but with overtones of Ignatius of Loyola’s simul in actione contemplativus; we behold God’s action in the doing of what needs to be done.
Pope Bergoglio is much more oriented to modernity, to modern culture, than the previous two popes. He cites John XXIII, and sometimes Paul VI, though he certainly cites John Paul II and Benedict—and de Lubac, Guardini, Newman, Bernanos, and the various documents of episcopal conferences. He is open to modern science. He is aware of skepticism, relativism, and atheism, but he has a certain sympathy for their adherents.
So what do I think the Pope is doing with his strong emphasis on missionary activities? He lightly touches the difficulty of political obstacles in most nations of the world to allow for much real missionary work. He mentions the basic right of religious freedom and its lack in many nations. He does not name many names. So his missionary activity first begins at home. The “joy” of the Gospel is designed to be a beacon of light in the world. It can only be seen if believers themselves see it.
Modernity is, briefly, the position that no truth is found in things or in ourselves. We are free because we are liberated from all religion or philosophy that would limit our freedom, individual or corporate. Religion of any kind is an enemy to this liberty. Once this freedom is established, man can go forward, as Benedict pointed out, to create a world in his own image. Man is not made in any image of God. He makes himself in his own image. Once free of any transcendent claim, man is free to create a truly “human” world that has no outside demands of a god or nature. Science and politics with this background will be able to make man into what he ought to be.
What Pope Francis seems to be doing in this Exhortation is, as it were, to present an alternative to modernity within modernity. This alternative is itself inner-worldly. That is, the emphasis is on the effects of Christianity as it truly ought to be lived in the here and now.
Whether Schall is comfortable with this shift is another matter since he mentions that “another legitimate version” of the Christian life — an alternative to Francis’ — is to be “hated precisely because [Christians] do live as Christ asked them to live.”
Schall offers another check upon Francis’ apparently optimistic embrace of modernity:
. . . at bottom, what this Exhortation seems to be is, indeed, an answer to classical modernity that, when spelled out, does everything modernity hopes for, only better and more securely because it is rooted in the real nature of man and is open to the gifts that have come to us in revelation. The Pope’s impatience has its charm. It also has its dangers. After all, most men who have ever lived on this planet have lived in very imperfect circumstances. The Church was for them too. Few lived in really fully developed economic and political orders with scientific and technological support that enabled man the leisure and time to create a civilization. Paul VI called it a “civilization of love,” and Pope Francis would probably call it the same.
So it looks like Francis is increasingly showing himself to be in line with a Vatican II spirit that was eager to embrace the modern world and extend Roman Catholicism out of the ghetto, parish, and parochial school to the wider world of suburbia, universities, and middle-class life. Which raises the question if the pope is identifying more with middle-class life and the kind of social structures that created it than he is with the poor. That was surely the case with the Protestant Social Gospelers, a group
from to which Jason and the Callers should have paid more attention.