Our Boosters are matching gifts up to $45,000. We have $32,417 to go. Your gift today will count twice!
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

Another thought on interpreting Pope Francis

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 10, 2014

Pope Francis continues to surprise us, speaking in ways that we don't expect from a Pontiff. For those who are trying to understand his way of thinking, here's one more thought to keep in mind:

Both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were accomplished scholars, who taught for years at the university level. The former taught philosophy, the later theology. Pope Francis, on the other hand, never pursued a career in academic life, and when he did teach, he taught literature. Whereas philosophy and theology call for detailed, logical analysis and careful distinctions, literature and literary criticism call for imagination and the use of colorful imagery. This is not to suggest that one approach is better than the other; they're just different.

Next time you read a text of a homily by Pope Francis, notice his use of language. He makes unusual comparisons; he sketches characters; he creates little dialogues. Doesn't he sound like someone who would be more comfortable with novelists than with philosophers? In his brief pontificate, John Paul I showed something of the same tendency; remember his whimsical letters to historic and even fictional personalities? After 30+ years of philosophy professors, we've grown accustomed to thinking that a Pope necessarily talks in a certain way. Not so. 

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

Dear reader: If you found the information on this page helpful in your pursuit of a better Catholic life, please support our work with a donation. Your donation will help us reach seven million Truth-seeking readers worldwide this year. Thank you!

Our Fall Campaign
Progress toward our year-end goal ($117,041 to go):
$150,000.00 $32,958.98
78% 22%
Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: mleiberton3126 - Jan. 13, 2014 4:02 PM ET USA

    As a student holding a degree in literature (BA), I do not agree with the idea that literary criticism calls for imagination and the use of imagery. Au contraire, attention to detail, logical analysis. and careful distinctions are the main tools in that field. Interpreting a work through one's imagination which is divorced from the substance of a work, tends to nonsense, frivolity, and unreality.

  • Posted by: Thomas429 - Jan. 10, 2014 11:44 PM ET USA

    I agree, we should lighten up. These open mike conversations and excerpts from homilies are not papal bulls or purging of the magisterium. They are food for thought issued by a thoughtful man who is trying to stir thought in others.

  • Posted by: jplaunder1846 - Jan. 10, 2014 6:29 PM ET USA

    I absolutely admired the courage and forthrightness of PJ2, I respected the gentleness and intellectuality of Benedict, and I love the simplicity and love of humanity that Francis shows. In many ways he takes me back to my youth the YCW - See Judge and Act in all human situations - we were taught to look at a human problem through the eyes of Christ and act accordingly. We were not saints but were trying to bring a Christ centred approach to our culture and society.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jan. 10, 2014 12:01 PM ET USA

    I am not concerned any longer about Francis' supposed penchant for inaccuracy.To his credit, he has noticed something very important: All the philosophical and theological talk of recent decades has left us with empty and closing churches and schools in America and Europe; the Church is 'losing' on all fronts of the cultural wars. So, if what you're doing is good but still failing badly, you try a different approach; Francis can hardly make things worse.(And who doesn't like his panache?)

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 10, 2014 10:31 AM ET USA

    There is a point where the meaning of things matters notwithstanding personal styles etc. The Church has always safeguarded theological truths by employing exacting language and terminology in reverence and in solicitude. Extemporaneous remarks must involve careful expression; well-educated individuals and excellent communicators across the globe have expressed concern. At Nicaea, one iota made all the difference for a Church besieged by widespread heretical opinion. Pray for our pope.

Fall 2014 Campaign
Subscribe for free
Shop Amazon
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

Recent Catholic Commentary

Contentious Spirits, Beware! 19 hours ago
And here's another very old story: the secular media don't understand Catholic affairs October 29
How not to be persuasive October 29
Francis the Man, Francis the Pope October 28
Clarifying what it might mean for a pope to wish to change Catholic doctrine October 28

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days
Key synod report calls for 'gradualism' in Church response to irregular family situations CWN - October 13
As synod concludes, bishops issue message, approve document; Pope weighs in CWN - October 20
Synod of Bishops opens with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica CWN - October 6