The radical theological vision of Pope Francis

Since the early days of his pontificate, Francis has shown himself to be non-ideological and surprisingly, non-partisan. Despite the ranting of some o

Jul 12, 2019

By Robert Mickens
Since the early days of his pontificate, Francis has shown himself to be non-ideological and surprisingly, non-partisan. Despite the ranting of some of his detractors, even within the most intransigent sectors of the Church’s hierarchy, this Pope is very definitely Catholic. But even more than that, he is a Christian.

Similar to his papal namesake, Francis of Assisi, the Pope’s faith and leadership are profoundly grounded in a radical reading of and an adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As Bishop of Rome, he is not obsessed with trying to show that his own teachings are in continuity with previous magisterial pronouncements, especially when those earlier teachings have been proven to be faulty (or false).

Francis is more concerned with converting the Church to the radicality of the Gospel, even if that means losing worldly power, prestige, privilege and influence.

He is not interested in the preservation of anything that is not essential to that Gospel. Nor is he given to keeping up any sort of appearance that the Church (and the popes) can never err.

Theology renewed and in specific context
The 82-year-old Pope recently gave one of the most important theological addresses of his pontificate. It is a shame that it was largely overlooked, because it was a clear presentation of how he sees theology and its role in the Church and in the world today.

He gave the address on June 21 at a Jesuit-run school of theology in the Italian seaport city of Naples. It was as extraordinary in the way it was presented, as much as in what the Pope actually said.

Before he even spoke, Francis spent most of the morning listening to theological presentations offered by several other speakers. Only after that did he offer his own thoughts.

The title of his talk was, Theology after Veritatis Gaudium (the 2018 apostolic constitution on ecclesiastical universities and faculties) in the context of the Mediterranean.

It is important to note that Francis believes theology can only be done in a real, flesh-and-blood context. It can never be exercised as a mere idea or ideal.

And it was in the context of the Mediterranean, cradle of Western civilisation – but as it is today – that the Pope sought to show how the Church’s theological investigations must proceed.

“The Mediterranean has always been a place of transit, of exchanges, and sometimes, even of conflicts,” Francis said.
He noted that it is an area facing a number of dramatic questions, which he and Muslim leaders highlighted during his historic trip last February to the United Arab Emirates.

“They can be expressed in some of the questions that we asked ourselves at the interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi: how can we take care of each other within the one human family? How can we foster a tolerant and peaceful coexistence that translates into authentic fraternity?
“How can we make it so that the welcoming of the other person and of those who are different from us because they belong to a different religious and cultural tradition, prevail in our communities? How can religions be paths of brotherhood instead of walls of separation?” the Pope recalled.

Dialogue as essential to theology
“These and other issues need to be discussed at various levels, and require a generous commitment to listening, studying and dialogue in order to promote processes of liberation, peace, brotherhood and justice.

“We must be convinced: it is about starting processes, not of defining or occupying spaces. Starting processes!” he told those gathered in an outdoor courtyard under the famous Neapolitan sun.

Dialogue on the big questions for our common humanity, as children of the One God, for the sake of peaceful coexistence… This is all part and parcel of theology in Francis’ vision.

“We lose nothing by engaging in dialogue. We always gain something. In a monologue, we all lose, all of us,” he warned.
He said dialogue is “not a magic formula,” but it is essential – especially with Muslims and Jews – for the renewal of theology in an inter-disciplinary manner.

“Students of theology should be educated in dialogue with Judaism and Islam, to understand the common roots and differences of our religious identities, and thus contribute more effectively to the building of a society that values diversity and fosters respect, brotherhood and peaceful coexistence,” he said.

Such dialogue should be marked by compassion and mercy, the Pope added.

“It is important that theologians be men and women of compassion – I emphasise this: that they be men and women of compassion – inwardly touched by the oppressed life many live, by the forms of slavery present today, by the social wounds, the violence, the wars and the enormous injustices suffered by so many poor people who live on the shores of this ‘common sea,’” he said.

A theology without such compassion would not be rooted in reality but in a classroom, the Pope contended. He said it would be “a laboratory theology, a pure theology, ‘distilled’ like water, which understands (and tastes of) nothing.”

Dialogue as welcoming
“I would say that theology, particularly in this context, is called to be a welcoming theology,” Francis insisted.

He said it should “develop a sincere dialogue with social and civil institutions, with university and research centres, with religious leaders and with all women and men of good will, for the construction in peace of an inclusive and fraternal society, and also for the care of creation.”

The most important point for Pope Francis is that the essential kernel of Christian faith – the kerygma – be the heart of theology and evangelisation (preaching the Good News).

“Not apologetics, not manuals… but evangelising. At the centre is evangelising, which is not the same thing as proselytising,” he said.

“In dialogue with cultures and religions, the Church announces the Good News of Jesus and the practice of evangelical love which he preached as a synthesis of the whole teaching of the law, the message of the prophets and the will of the Father…

“Only in listening to this Word and in the experience of the love that it communicates can one discern the relevance of kerygma. Dialogue, understood in this way, is a form of welcoming,” the Pope added. --LCI (

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