Francis is more than a revolutionary — a prophet

There is something about Francis’ pontificate that harks back to the “Gregorian revolution” of the 11th century; that is, a top-down reform against corruption.

Jan 29, 2016

By Massimo Faggioli
There is something about Francis’ pontificate that harks back to the “Gregorian revolution” of the 11th century; that is, a top-down reform against corruption. But there is also a prophetic element; namely, the recognition that law and doctrine are not enough, that Christianity cannot be expressed only legally and doctrinally.

This is where — I think — there is the prophetic and revolutionary potential in this pontificate. Francis’ reframing of sexual morality issues in Church teaching and his emphasis on the spiritual element of mercy are a prophetic reaction against our age of “biopolitics.” It is an age in which law defines everything, even those aspects of life (regarding the family, sexuality, how to approach death, etc.) that were traditionally regulated by laws and traditions other than those set by public authorities.

Francis understands this. He sees that this biopolitical development has brought a new wave of legalism into the Church, depriving it of the warmth of social relationships and of the necessary mediation between ideal moral norms and the complexity of life situations. He knows quite well that when law totally dominates the life of the Church a significant number of people eventually give no heed to what Church law says.

Moreover, Francis’ emphasis on mercy is a way to reframe the idea of what is normative in the Church (mercy above all) in a world where everything is being reframed — not only the role of the Church in the secular world and society, but also the relations between the political system and the economicfinancial system, between the nation state and the global level.

The Reformation that was spearheaded by Martin Luther and John Calvin did not only change Western Christianity. Between the 16th and 17th centuries the Reformation and the Catholic Counter-reformation also helped create the nation state system and the role of religion in it. That system is now fading away, and so is the place of the Catholic Church in our world.

In a sense, Catholicism finally accepted the legitimacy of the nation state with the Second Vatican Council. But it was fifty years too late. The nation state concept today is in a deep crisis of legitimacy. This was also clear to Benedict XVI, but Francis is now expressing that perception in a different way. His social and political messages and his very way of being Pope is the result not only of a theology, but also of his readings of “the signs of the times”.

In Francis’ pontificate one can see an element of reform (the small changes — at least so far — in the Roman Curia) and renewal (the Pope’s spiritual teaching). But there is also a revolution underway in how he is resetting the relationship between the papacy in Rome and the rest of the Church and the world (the peripheries, ecumenism, a new relationship between local Churches and the Vatican).

It remains to be seen how much of this revolutionary Francis will become part of his legacy, something that will be impossible or extremely difficult for his successor to reverse.

Revolution is a dirty word in today’s world. But, paradoxically, it something that’s now happening in the Catholic Church, which in these last two centuries defined itself with a firm anti-revolutionary and status quo mentality.--Global Pulse

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