by Jesús Bastante (English translation by Rebel Girl)
July 24, 2018
José María Castillo is one of our best theologians. Persecuted and condemned for years for supporting a popular theology, open and close to the poor. Now the coming of Pope Francis has meant a full-fledged rehabilitation for Castillo.
Not just theological but visible -- Bergoglio himself received and thanked Pepe Castillo for his theology in a historical day that we remember in this interview on the occasion of the publication of La religión de Jesús. Comentarios al Evangelio diario Ciclo C ["The religion of Jesus: Comments on the daily Gospel, Cycle C"], published by Desclée. The future of the Church and religions, also on the table, with one clear idea: "The Gospel is not a religion and, therefore, nor is Christianity -- it's a life project."
It's always an honor and a pleasure. Pepe Castillo, welcome to your home.
Indeed, this is an extension of my house.
That is also what's intended. We are trying to create a big family at Religión Digital, with you and us. In this family there are always new and very desired children who come because, moreover, this is a book you do every year and we now have it here: La religión de Jesús. Comentarios al Evangelio diario Ciclo C (2018-2019) by José María Castillo, from the publisher Desclée. They've always chosen some precious photos of children in recent years.
Yes. They take care of the cover, among other things. It's now been eleven years in a row.
Isn't it complicated? In the end, there are three cycles, right?
You've repeated that; this will be the third or the fourth one.
Sure. It's one of the difficulties that doing this book and its corresponding commentaries has at this point -- there's a danger of repeating oneself. I've tried to overcome it by paying a lot of attention to something that seems basic to me and it's the situation. Because life is changing very rapidly and, moreover, in very deep and very important things. And, as such, responding to the questions that people are asking or the problems people are experiencing seems to me one of the most important things to do to the extent that a book of this sort can do it.
And what does the Gospel tell us about what's happening in the world today?
It tells us that on very fundamental questions of life this world has drifted towards other interests, other problems, and other solutions that are exactly opposite to the Gospel. This seems important to me. And what I want to add is, as I see it, what is most fundamental at this time is the relationship between the Church and the Gospel.
What is that relationship? What problems do we have in that relationship?
The main problem, as I see it and as I'm developing it in a book that will come out after the summer, is that the Church, to a great extent and fundamentally, has marginalized the Gospel
But wouldn't it be the base on which it sits?
Sure, it's the base; it's the axis, the core. But, however, it isn't. Although we're lucky to have the current pope.
Pope Francis is a unique character in the history of the papacy -- he is, as far as we know, an entirely original pope. From my point of view, he's a man who, without saying it, deep inside him, is what he has set for himself and how he has programmed it. But the fact is that he's changing the papacy. And he's changing it by his lifestyle, his humanity above all, his closeness to the people, his harmony with those no one else tunes in -- the most helpless and unfortunate people of this world.
This pope is changing the situation. He's changing the papacy and he's also changing the future of the Church. I want to emphasize that.
Is it enough? I mean, he's still a man in front of a mastodon like the church institution, that he's fighting strongly and fiercely so as not to commit harakiri, not disappear, in the sense of disappearing from the hierarchies, from the links of power, this pyramidal structure that leaves the people of God a bit drowning.
Yes, that's how it is, because deep down there's a threat that's much more serious. It's no secret that the Pope has great -- we're going to say it -- enemies in the Church. And very high level enemies. Not just in the secular, political, economic, social, intellectual world...but most painfully, in the ecclesiastical world.
He has them at home.
Yes. Enemies who would like to get him out of the way as soon as possible, or for God to take him out of the way. And the root of the problem, from my point of view, is that the Church since its own origins has always had difficulty, distance from and sometimes a very strong contradiction with the Gospel.
Let's not forget a very important thing: the Gospel is plain and simply not a religion. Proof of it is that religion killed the protagonist of the Gospel, who is Jesus. And according to the accounts of the Gospel, which ultimately is a narrative theology not laid out in theories or doctrines but in stories of deeds, of life events.
These recompilations of tales that each one of the evangelists organized and presented differently, basically concur on one essential thing which, normally, a notable quantity of the clerical world refuses to acknowledge.
And what is it?
That the gospel is not a religion and, therefore, Christianity isn't either. It's a life project. And I say it isn't a religion because of what I already indicated before and I'm not tired of repeating: we should never forget that the Gospel is the story of a conflict. A conflict that ended in death and -- this is curious -- the great defender and the one who most resisted killing Jesus was, according to the Passion stories, the Roman procurator.
The remarkable thing is that those most determined that he not only had to be killed but killed on a cross (that is, in the most cruel and humiliating and degrading way there was in that culture and in that society) were the highest officials of the religion.
The fact that the Church and Christianity have been presented, lived out, been organized and are in society as one more religion has been at the cost of defacing, deforming and marginalizing the axis and core of the Gospel.
So, -- and we're always discussing this -- how do you manage to expand the message, the life project of Jesus to the whole world without becoming a religion that, moreover, is attached to a power? Because without the Roman Empire, this expansion would probably have been impossible, And without certain ties between power and religion, surely Jesus' message would not have reached so many people over the centuries.
Is this a theory of the lesser evil? Or did it serve for a period to spread the message but the institution should have withdrawn, afterwards, from its relationship with power?
What I've been able to find out from reading, studying and reflecting on this practically all my life, but especially in recent years, is that there is a process that is provoked right from the start. I will be as brief as possible: The first is that the early Churches spread through the Empire without knowing the Gospel because the main propagator of those Churches was Saint Paul. Saint Paul didn't know Jesus or, therefore, the Gospel either. What he experienced in the famous incident on the road to Damascus when, they say, he fell off the horse (although the story doesn't mention any horse) was the experience of Christ resurrected. Therefore: Christ, no longer of this world but after this world in the fullness of his glory in eternity.
So it looked like the PP primaries, because Paul and Peter (Paul did know and dealt with Peter) already had their squabbles about how this ought to be. Sounds a bit like Cospedal/Soraya [Translator's note: This is a reference to María Dolores de Cospedal and Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, two rivals in Spain's Partido Popular (PP) party].
They had clashes because of this and for other reasons for which we don't have time now. But the fact is that Paul didn't know Jesus. And also he came to say, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, that Jesus according to the flesh (that is, the human Jesus) didn't matter to him. And he continues: "and if I once cared about that, at this moment it matters not to me."
The Church today, is it more Paul or more Peter? Or more neither of the two?
The Church isn't confined to Peter and Paul.
Well, but as a symptom: whether it's a more spiritual Church, a more structural Church, or more trying to go back to the roots.
If by Peter we mean the Church that comes from the historical Jesus, obviously the Gospel is more of Peter. While the apostolic letters that Paul was sending to his Churches throughout the Empire from the East to -- they say he got there - Spain, Paul elaborates from his experience of the transcendental, of the Resurrected One. Very conditioned too by his education ideas -- he was educated in Greek culture, he's very marked by Stoic thinking, and it seems that one can state with full assurance that he had conditioning factors of Gnostic origin. And all that isn't Jesus, it's something else and goes along other paths.
What's remarkable is that the gospels began to appear starting from the year 70, forty and some years after Jesus' death. When the Church had already been organized into communities and assemblies throughout the big cities of the Empire. That's the first difficulty.
The second difficulty is that the assemblies that Paul's Churches organized didn't have temples, or what today we call churches, in the sense of buildings. They met in homes, but they had to be big homes and those who had homes like this were the rich and powerful. So the Church was organized around the homes of rich, important people and their consequent interests.
The third factor -- that many people don't know and that has never been taken into account -- is that in the first centuries the whole Empire was bilingual -- Greek was spoken above all, Latin too. But the gospels were drafted in Greek, and educated people knew Greek. So, people of a certain social and cultural level with all the attachments that inevitably entails. And the poor, what did they do? Well, what they've always done and still do: they stayed on the margin.
The first complete translation of the Bible we know of isn't the one given by the famous patrologist Quasten from the year 180, which is already enough: it would be almost a century and a half long after the death of Jesus. According to Tertullian, the 3rd century is when there's news of this first translation of the whole Bible into Latin. So for the first two centuries the people couldn't know the Gospel.
There's a fourth very important factor: at the beginning of the 4th century comes the famous so-called "conversion of Constantine." From that moment privileges begin to be granted to the Church. I'll not dwell on this. But it's worth taking into account. And in the same 4th century, now at the end, with Emperor Theodosius who was a native of what we now call Spain (from Aragon, it seems).
He was the one who declared the Church as the official one of the Empire.
Sure. Theodosius was the emperor who took a step further than Constantine because Constantine allowed it but Theodosius declared it the only one and all the others went underground. From that time on, end of the 4th century to the beginning of the 6th century, a phenomenon happens that has been studied carefully, well documented, by one of the most competent men we have in this business. Probably the most competent one in the whole world: an Oxford professor named Peter Brown. He wrote a book that has a very curious title, Through the Eye of a Needle. Which is that Gospel thing where a camel enters through the eye of a needle before a rich man enters the Kingdom of God.
This historian shows that from about the end of the 4th century, the whole 5th century, and until the beginning of the 6th century, a surprising phenomenon happens: an avalanche entrance of the most rich and powerful people into the Church. The thing got to the point that there were many cases of bishops named without even being baptized. The best known case is the one of the one who was bishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose. Saint Ambrose was a catechumen, and from a catechumen he was consecrated bishop because they saw he was the only one who could rule an ungovernable Church because of the troubles it had. That was repeated by the Gauls and also in Roman Hispania. It spread.
This massive entry of rich and powerful people into the Church gave it a completely new twist: the Gospel was maintained, but it wasn't lived out. And here I want to emphasize an issue that seems capital to me: the Gospel isn't a theory, it's a way of life. And it's present to the extent that it is lived out. If it isn't, we will have one or many theories -- there are even a lot of gospel sayings that have become popular sayings -- but saying them is one thing and living them, another.
And this is the Church's big problem: that we have an institution that's well organized, well managed, and well structured but also alienated and distant from the gospel. Although there are individuals, movements and groups that live it, that make an effort to live it. It occured to me at the time of Paul VI, being in Rome on Easter Sunday, to go to St. Peter's Square to the Pope's Mass. I lasted ten minutes there. When I saw the impressive spectacle, I thought, "And all this, what does it have to do with Jesus who was born in a manger and died hanging like a criminal?"
Have you found an answer to that?
I assure you that that morning I went to take a walk through the streets of Trastevere and I was turning it around in my head: " Have I lost my mind? Am I crazy? Or are the people crazy? How is it possible that the story of Jesus was the source of this?".
That day there were representatives of those soldiers who killed so many people in Argentina. There were representatives of the dictatorships of Latin America, of Europe...Search me! From all over the world, and there in the first row...
How it impressed me when I was a student and my parents, now seniors, came to see me in Rome. And the Pope was still using the gestatorial chair, the tiara and all that apparatus of bugles, incense, vestments ...
I remember that my mother (she was a good woman, but we're from a village and a simple family) who had no special culture, went pale. I asked her:
"Mom, is something wrong with you?"
"Mom, please, we're in St. Peter's. You don't sin here; you come here to pray or join the Church."
And my mother said to me:
"It's that I remember that the only thing the Lord got up on was a little donkey. And look how that man is coming!"
What a bit of lesson.
That has stuck in my soul and I haven't stopped turning it over since then. And now, in the eleven years
I've been writing this about the gospels, I haven't stopped thinking about the same problem.
I'm now finishing a book titled El Evangelio marginado ["The marginalized Gospel"]. And it's that this is painful; that's why the current pope is a blessing. But him fighting alone...Although he's not alone at all, he's very conditioned. And what they're saying about "why doesn't he remove them all and put others in" is said very soon; the Pope has to be very careful in this because a schism could be organized.
Pontiffs are bridge-builders not destroyers of communion and, sure, it's complicated. The work Francis has ahead of him is very hard.
It's an extremely complicated thing, and delicate -- being good but at the same time being firm and consistent with everyone. Harmonizing these two things is an authentic miracle. It will take years and years for this to succeed.
But there are things I don't want to keep quiet about and I'll take advantage of this time.
First -- I''ve already said it -- that it would be fundamental to organize the family thing because it's a shame; after all there are many thousands of people who still go to Mass. Few institutions have so many people guaranteed every Sunday.
Another important thing would be to allow married men as priests. And more so when it's known for sure that it [Translator's note: mandatory celibacy] was a tradition that was introduced in the 4th or 5th century.
And third, the woman problem: why are women not allowed to be able to be priests the same as men are? Here there's a more basic issue: Why is a sociological, cultural and historical phenomenon so frequently confused with a theological fact?
Naturally women in ancient cultures were marginalized. And we're still experiencing residues of that. But if we're convinced of anything, and each day we see it more clearly, it's that a society that marginalizes women can't go anywhere. And the Church has to address this phenomenon as soon as possible. Women have the same rights as men, and in theology too. Moreover, reading and re-reading, studying the gospels, one of the things that most draws your attention is the exquisite care, protection, respect, and support Jesus gave women, always. Whether Jewish women or of other origins, and regardless of their conduct. Jesus always defended them; well, we're going to defend them.
And the last thing I want to say is I don't have the mouth or the words, nor do I find arguments to ponder and thank Pope Francis for the fact that he himself called me at my home and organized for us to be able to see each other and have an interview. I told him:
"Look, Father Francis, you and I are both undocumented Jesuits just like Díez Alegría, except that he came out on top and I've come out below."
And he laughed. Then I gave him two books and he told me:
"Keep on writing. Don't stop doing it because with this you're doing people a lot of good."
This has done me more good than all the preachers, spiritual directors, confessors, etc. that I've had in my life.
We'll heed the Pope, right? Keep on doing it.
I'm trying to. And though I'm quite old now, I keep on working and will keep on working with enthusiasm while mind and body endure.
Age is in the heart, José María, and you're very young. Like this girl on the cover of your book: La religión de Jesús. Comentario al evangelio diario. Ciclo C (2018-2019) published by Desclée, as always.
Many thanks for the chat and for your magnificent work on Religión Digital too -- this huge service you do to a ton of readers who follow you the world over.
Many thanks and ever onward.
Many thanks to you and to Religión Digital for the huge good you do throughout the world, especially in Spain, in Europe, and in Latin America.
Here we are, José María, and thanks to people like you, we manage.