The first Jesuit, the first Latin American, and the first Francis, the new Pope/Bishop of Rome is the subject of note today. So who is Francis and what does he represent? I will provide my thoughts below, and after this, link to a couple of other write-ups about Francis and who he is. For those of you who seem to be confused about where I stand in regards to my faith and relation to the Roman church, see my statement of faith here (wish I didn’t have to do this, but anti-Catholicism is a hobby for some, to the point of irrationality…how dare I try to be conciliatory with other Christians).
Why I Am Cautiously Optimistic
1. He is absolutely orthodox when it comes to what the Roman church teaches (and the church everywhere, regardless of one’s tradition), on everything shared from moral issues to doctrine. This includes upholding the biblical, traditional, and natural law views of human sexuality, marriage (one woman and one man marriage for life, or celibacy), and life as “conception to natural death.” It is also safe to assume he will not be an advocate of such modern chauvinist causes such as “women priests” or many other modernist social agendas, since he is fully in line with the Roman tradition on these issues. He was even called “medieval” by the Argentine president for opposing gay adoption, which is a great compliment in today’s post-Christian secularist world.
2. He is also absolutely in line with Roman church teaching in his concern for the poor and economically disadvantaged. However (thankfully), he has distanced himself from the Marxist “liberation theology” that was popular in Latin American circles during the 1970’s-1980’s (and still is with academics and liberal apostates of the Great Realignment). Francis has instead said that personal holiness and a correct conception of who God is and how He acts in the world will naturally lead to a proper concern and action for the poor. Now how he uses this in regards to the “City of Men” (temporal government initiatives) remains to be seen, but there is nothing new or innovative here in regards to teaching, and concern for the poor is certainly part of the Christian message (but not the only message either).
3. Francis (at least as an Archbishop/Cardinal), is well-known for his simplicity and austerity of life-style, shunning some of the trappings that come with certain ecclesiastical offices. He would take the bus to work (instead of being chauffeured in a limo), cook his own food, and lived in a simple apartment. This sort of simplicity is certainly a good indicator of why he chose Francis as his namesake, and also a good sign for those who think the Roman church is always about expensive art (its not, but perception is reality for some).
4. Related to his simple life-style, Francis is also known for both living and preaching humility. When first on the balcony as Pope, he refused to be elevated above the other Cardinals, and actually bowed his head for the people to pray for him first, before giving the customary blessing. He routinely emphasizes constant prayer (also like his name-sake), and seems to genuinely be one who does not hold himself above others, in spite of the nature of his office.
In other words, Pope Francis seems to have lived, be living, and will continue to live by James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (ESV). Far too many Christians have focused on only half of this verse at the expense of the other. Some reduce Christianity to mere social concerns, while others focus on holy living at the expense of reaching the world. Like many problems or disputes in Christianity today, the answer via James is “both/and” rather than “either/or.”
Areas of “Wait and See”
1. It remains to be seen as to how he interacts with other Christians (Protestant/Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox etc…). The Jesuit order was traditionally the “Marines” of the counter-reformation, meaning the attitude towards other Christians was hostile to say the least (and the sentiment was obviously returned). However, Jesuits also have a reputation for being well-educated and for being good teachers, so we shall see how this plays out in his reaction with non-Roman Christians.
2. As one who will receive instant media attention, as one who is a “Head of State,” and because all of the visibility involved, pressure to be politically correct is always present. The Roman church often lacks consistency in regards to the work of Christ and other religions. For example, it rightly quotes Cyprian of Carthage saying “One cannot have God as father without the church as mother.” Yet at the same time, after Vatican II, Muslims are considered to be worshipers of the “one God.” Now this is considered preparation for the gospel, but it seems the church can often talk from both sides of its mouth when it comes to the other religions of the world. Can one really be worshiping the one God while explicitly denying the Trinity and divinity of Christ? Probably not. It will be interesting to see if Francis emphasizes evangelism (including Muslims) and the necessity of Christ, or if he tries to walk a politically-correct tight-rope and something that smacks of universalism (which of course has been condemned in the 5th council and several times after).
3. Like it or not, the abuse scandal is relevant, even though it has also been gleefully sensationalized by the media. Since Francis is a sort of outsider who is very much his own man, the possibility exists that he will reform the curia (Vatican bureaucracy), and deal with the transparency and punishment issue once and for all.
4. One of Benedict XVI’s successes was the liturgical/worship renewal of the Roman church. Will this continue?
Regardless of how this plays out in global Christianity, pray for Francis, and the mission of the Roman church! From a “mere Christian” perspective, this is something we should be doing for the church everywhere, not just those in communion with Rome.
For further reading:
A New Pope for a New Chapter of an Old Story (John Haldane, First Things) (This one is excellent in describing how Francis doesn’t neatly fit in any category).
Defending Pope Francis on Gay Adoption (he opposes it, naturally)