Not sure how I missed this. A year ago at a national conference of the Italian church, Pope Francis made some startling pronouncements about his understanding of the nature of Christian doctrine and his vision for the church of which he is the temporal head.
For Francis, Christian doctrine is an invitation to questions, not a declaration of answers. He says,
Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, interrogatives — but is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened. It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.
And reforming the church
means… grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit — so that all will be possible with genius and creativity.
Imagine a church that genuinely seeks to leave itself “to be guided by the Spirit.” What might such a church look like?
According to Francis, such a church would be a church that looks at Jesus, and looking at Jesus would see
Before all, the face of a God who is emptied, a God who has assumed the condition of servant, humble and obedient until death.
To become such a church we must, Francis argued, guard against two ancient heresies of the church: Pelagianism and Gnosticism.
Pelagianism, which holds that humans can achieve salvation on their own without divine help
brings us to have trust in structures, in organizations, in perfect plans, however abstract.
The Pope goes on to suggest that Pelangianism often
brings us to assume a style of control, of hardness, of normalcy.
This attitude he says,
gives to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. In this is found its force, not in the lightness of the breath of the Spirit.
But those who follow the Spirit the Pope says,
Assume always the Spirit of the great explorers, that on the sea were passionate for navigation in open waters and were not frightened by borders and of storms.
And so he pleads, may the church
be a free church and open to the challenges of the present, never in defense for fear of losing something.
The second heresy the Pope has in his sights it a belief system that has at times caused people to shun the material world in favor of a disembodied spiritual realm. Such reasoning he suggests
brings us to trust in logical and clear reasoning … which however loses the tenderness of the flesh of the brother.
The difference between Christian transcendence and any form of gnostic spiritualism remains in the mystery of the incarnation,” said the pontiff. “Not putting it in practice, not guiding the Word to reality, means building on sand, remaining in pure idea … which does not give fruit, which make sterile [God’s] dynamism.
I desire a happy church with face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses.
Dream of this church, believe in it, innovate it with freedom.
The church Francis hopes for is a church that is able to move and grow. It has soft flesh and seeks only to be guided by the lightness of the breath of the Spirit. It is a servant church which does not trust in rigid structures, clearly defined plans, or static organization. Its leaders are not addicted to control and are not driven by the fear of loss to establish rigidly defined borders.
The church I see Francis longing for is a gentle community of love, deep respect for all people, openness, and encouragement to follow wherever the wind of God’s Spirit seems to be blowing.It is a church that holds to the New Testament message that the heart of the Gospel is freedom for all people to live in tune with God’s Spirit at work in their lives.
It is not clear how much power even the Pope has to lead the church to such a spacious refreshing place. One can only hope Francis may live long enough and be persuasive enough to succeed in bring his vision to birth.