Friday, April 12, 2013

The Church isn't fixed just by changing shoes

by José Maria Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Atrio
April 9, 2013

The new habits that Pope Francis has introduced in the public image the successor to Peter presents to the world have been news worldwide. No one now doubts that the pope seems more and more like a normal man every day, without the red Prada shoes and with increasingly fewer of those costumes that are as striking as they are outdated. Of course, this is praiseworthy and it expresses that this pope has a strong, original and exemplary personality. A pope is important, not because of his public image but because of his exemplariness. It's obvious that Pope Francis is very clear about this. So we admire him, we applaud him, we feel closer to him. And we expect a lot of him.

Of course, I'm not one to tell the pope what he must do. Who am I to do that? In any case, with all possible modesty and humility, I am daring to suggest that one can think that the Church will not be fixed just by simplifying the vestments and modifying a few customs. It will be news, yes. Especially among more traditional people and groups. Some have already screamed to high heaven because, on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis dared to wash the feet of two women. It's sad to think that there are people who get so alarmed over such a thing. Wouldn't it be more reasonable to think deeply about where the root of the true problems the Church is suffering lies? And, especially, the problems that so many helpless people, marginalized and without hope of a future, are suffering?

Well then, the question thus having been raised, what I dare to suggest is that the origin of the problems that the Church is dragging along, isn't in the public image offered by the pope. The root is in the theology that the Church teaches. Because theology is the body of knowledge that tells us what we ought to think and believe about God, Jesus, sin and salvation, etc...Now, as anyone with a fair bit of culture knows, theology continues to be a body of knowledge that has remained too outdated. Because it's ideas and beliefs that were developed and structured more than 800 years ago. And, logically, in a culture like the current one, where the mind of almost everyone is on different problems and seeking other solutions, are we going to be surprised that the teachings of the clergy matter little and to fewer and fewer people every day? I agree that God is always the same. And it's not about the people of every era inventing the "god" that suits the people of those times. Not at all. It's precisely about the opposite. It's about us asking ourselves seriously if what we are teaching, with our theology and our catechism, is what God has told us. Or rather, what we are teaching is what has occurred to a long series of theologians -- more or less original -- who, in times past, said things that aren't very useful today.

I'll conclude by giving an example that illustrates what I'm trying to explain. In the "Credo" (our official profession of faith), we start by saying: "We* believe in One God, the Father Almighty." That is what the first Ecumenical Council, the one of Nicea (in 325), taught. Of all the qualifiers that could have been placed on the God of our faith, "Almighty" was chosen. That is, "power" was chosen, not kindness or love, which is how the New Testament defines God (1 Jn 4:8,16). But this isn't what causes the most difficulty. The main problem is that, if you read the original text of the Council, the Greek one, what it says there is that we Christians believe in the "Pantocrator", which was the title attributed to themselves by the Roman emperors of the Antonine dynasty (96 to 192), who dominated the golden age of the Empire and equated themselves with the gods. Now, the "Pantocrator" was the master of the universe, the absolute ruler of the cosmos. A way of speaking of God that has little (or nothing) to do with the Father Jesus presents to us. And I would note that this example, while important, is relatively secondary. Without a doubt, theology needs to be brought up to date, which involves much more serious problems than the pope's shoes. We will intensify our faith and our hope that Pope Francis will take decisive steps in that direction. In him, we Christians have more at stake than we surely imagine.

* Translator's Note: I'm translating from a Spanish version of the Credo which still uses the first person plural, as the English used to do before the latest revision. The current English version of the Credo uses the first person singular.

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