Evangelii Gaudium: Pope Francis rebukes conservative Catholics (part 8)

Quotes from the papal teaching document “Evangelii Gaudium”, with my commentary.

In paragraphs 247-249, Pope Francis discusses Judaism. He asserts that the Old Covenant has never been revoked. In so many words, he presents the Jewish Faith as a true religion, though one that is limited by the absence of belief in Jesus as the Messiah.

In paragraphs 250-251, Pope Francis discusses non-Christian religions in general. He sees goodness and truth in other belief systems. We must love truth, wherever it may be found.

Next, Pope Francis discusses Islam.

“We must never forget that they “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day”. The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services. Many of them also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need.” EG 252

Is Islam a true religion? Pope Francis does not explicitly answer the question. My own answer is that any religion based on the love of God and the love of neighbor as self is a true religion. The objection to this position is that a non-Christian religion based on the love of God and neighbor might contain many substantial errors in its beliefs. Yes, but I have noticed that very many Catholics are in error on many important matters of faith and morals. If that were the standard for a true religion, we would have to conclude that most Catholics and all Orthodox and Protestants do not follow a true religion. But it is not the standard. So I would say that a true religion is one based on the love of God and neighbor, even if there are substantial errors in the beliefs of its members.

Christianity is the truest religion on earth, and Catholicism is the most perfect form of Christianity. Catholic Christianity is the truest most perfect religion in the world. But when the faithful enter Heaven and possess the Beatific Vision of God, they will understand a great disparity between the truths of Heaven and those of Catholic Christianity on earth. They will understand so much more, in vastly greater depth and breadth. The understanding of the least in Heaven will be greater than the understanding of the greatest Saints of the Church on earth. For “the least in the kingdom of heaven” are greater than the holiest Saints on earth, such as John the Baptist (cf. Mt 11:11).

So we should not be arrogant or condescending when we speak of the faults and failings of non-Catholic and non-Christian religions. Other religions, if they teach the love of God and neighbor, can be of substantial help to their adherents in walking the path of salvation. Many Catholic Christians will be punished in Hell, and many non-Christian believers will be rewarded in Heaven.

Moderate peaceful Islam teaches the love of God and neighbor, and so it is, in that sense, a true religion. The sacred writings of Islam contain some important truths, even truths in common with Christianity. And devout Muslims have a profound respect for Jesus and Mary.

“Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.” EG 253

Pope Francis distinguishes between violent fundamentalist Islam and the true followers of Islam. The violent fundamentalists do not love their neighbor, and so they do not truly love God. The extremist version of Islam (as I term it) is not a true religion. But the true followers of Islam love God and neighbor, and so they are truly on the path to Heaven.

Anyone who hates his neighbor, and who dies in repentant from that sin, goes to Hell. Anyone who loves his neighbor, and who dies in that state of love, goes to Heaven. The love of God and neighbor is the path to Heaven.

“Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God’, and thus be ‘associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’.” EG 254

Pope Francis teaches that non-Christians can enter and retain the state of grace by faithfulness to their own consciences. In this way, they become non-formal members of the Church, for they are associated to the paschal mystery of Christ. Pope Francis does not limit this possible path of salvation solely to Jews, nor solely to those who have not heard of Christianity, nor solely to believers. Anyone can be saved by faithfulness to his or her own conscience, even if they know of Christianity and do not convert.

“As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs.” EG 254

Christians can benefit from the goodness and truth possessed by non-Christian believers and all persons of good will. For they, too, are in a state of grace and are joined to Christ by the state of grace.

The teaching of Pope Francis on other religions and on salvation for non-Christians and non-believers is opposed and rejected by most conservative Catholics. They have decided to adhere to the teachings of the conservative Catholic subculture, rather than to the teaching of Popes and Councils. They have decided that they themselves are judges over the Magisterium, to decide what is and is not true.

Right now, conservatives are ignoring this papal document, in so far as it criticize them or teaches an idea contrary to their own minds. But Pope Francis has offered this document as a basis for the reforms he is about to implement in the Church. So they will not be able to ignore it for long.

“The Synod Fathers spoke of the importance of respect for religious freedom, viewed as a fundamental human right. This includes ‘the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public’.” EG 255.

Religious freedom is essential in a pluralistic society. Without it, Catholicism, as a minority view, would soon be silenced by the tyranny of the majority. And this freedom is a fundamental human right because we do not have the Beatific Vision of God; we do not behold perfect Truth directly. So each human person must seek truths of religion and morals in his life. And though our search is not perfect, we are morally obligated to adhere to those important truths which we believe we have found.

Many conservatives reject this teaching, because they see themselves as the guardians of truth, as the deciders of truth, and as an elite minority who alone possess truth. The conservative Catholic subculture has exalted itself above the Magisterium, and the inevitable result will be the departure of those conservative Catholics who refuse to be corrected by the Pope.

“The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions.” EG 255

Pope Francis teaches that we must respect agnostics and atheists (as well as anyone whose belief system does not include belief in an all-powerful eternal personal God.) However, respect for these persons should not result in society silencing believers. Pope Francis is referring to the current situation in many Western nations. The current political and societal trend is to silence religious belief on the basis of a claim that non-believers might be offended.

“As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God.” EG 257

Atheists and agnostics, who sincerely seek truth and goodness, who sincerely love their neighbor, are on the path to God. They can be saved, in my view, without converting to belief in God, as long as they are faithfully following their consciences in the love their neighbor.

“I once more invoke the Holy Spirit. I implore him to come and renew the Church, to stir and impel her to go forth boldly to evangelize all peoples.” EG 261

“Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different.” EG 263

This type of expression by the Pope is not a teaching, but a prudential judgment. It is not an act of the Magisterium. We are free to disagree.

However, I notice that many Catholics, speaking about Pope Francis, treat his theological opinions and prudential judgments on religious matters like so much chaff. They speak as if their opinion were more insightful and more reliable than that of the holy Pontiff. Yet Pope Francis has a Ph.D. in theology; he was a professor of theology. He was a Bishop for many years, a Cardinal for many years, and he is the Pope. The mere opinion of Pope Francis, apart from any act of the Magisterium, is the better opinion.

The typical online Catholic commentator is quick to disagree with Pope Francis, to denigrate his insights, and to offer correction to his supposed errors. But most of these commentators have no degree in theology, have written no theology, are not ordained, are not Bishops or Cardinals, and are unable to exercise the Magisterium. The mere opinion of Pope Francis is better than their opinions by far. The personal insights and private theology of Pope Francis is better than their bright ideas and internet whining. Pope Francis understands the holy Catholic Faith and the Church in greater breadth and depth than any hundred Catholic bloggers and online commentators put together.

And then, in addition, when he teaches under the Magisterium, Pope Francis has the special assistance of the Holy Spirit. Online commentators do not. Pope Francis has shown himself to be particularly humble. These online commentators who denigrate the words of the Pope have shown themselves to be particularly arrogant.

To use an analogy, suppose that a neurosurgeon with many years’ experience and a well-deserved good reputation were to write a book for fellow physicians and nurses, teaching and guiding them from his knowledge and experience. But then, in response, many online commentators who have no medical training or experience began to denigrate the book and offer corrections for its supposed errors. These commentators go so far as to contradict the advice of the book, and to tell its readers to listen to them on medical matters, even though they are not physicians or nurses.

That is what these online commentators are like in comparison with the words and writings of Pope Francis. He is the well-qualified experienced physician, offering his teaching and advice to those who tend to the spiritually sick of the world. They are the ignorant on-lookers, who are practicing medicine without possessing the requisite knowledge and experience. If they behaved this way, literally, in the area of medicine, they could be arrested and charged with practicing medicine without a license. But in the realm of religion and online commentary, no one seems to notice their lack of qualifications.

There are many portions of Evangelii Gaudium that are clearly not an act of the Magisterium, but rather a commentary on society and the current state of evangelization in the Church. The reader could possibly disagree without sin. Even so, these insights by Pope Francis are not to be treated like so much chaff to be winnowed away. It is the sin of arrogance to treat the Pope’s opinion as of lesser weight than one’s own opinion.

Then too, Evangelii Gaudium is not a work of private theology, nor is it solely a document of prudential judgment. Evangelii Gaudium contains magisterial teachings, and we are obligated to give our religious assent. It is a sin to treat any magisterial teaching as if it were opinion.

I accept Pope Francis as my Teacher and Guide, and as Teacher and Guide of the universal Church on earth. I consider his insights to be greater than my own, and I hold his opinions on religious matters to be better than my opinions. When he teaches under the Magisterium, I consider his words to be the work of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of Jesus Christ. Can you say the same?

“It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize.” EG 266

Non-Christian believers and non-believers can still be saved, by the universal salvific will of God and the hidden work of the Holy Spirit. But it is better to have known Jesus, than not to have known him. Those who reject Christianity might still be walking the path of salvation, but they walk it with much less light and guidance. The path to Heaven is most clearly lit, is most level and straight, for Christians who believe and practice the Catholic Faith. The path to Heaven is less well lit and more winding and rocky the further that one moves away from Catholic Christianity. Those unbelievers who are furthest away will have the most difficult time being saved. Salvation is possible even for atheists who do not convert, but it is most difficult.

“Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world.” EG 269

The above quote is a succinct summary of the meaning of this entire document. Pope Francis is teaching and encouraging the faithful to begin at the Cross of Jesus, and then to go forth to the whole world to spread the Gospel, each according to his gifts and circumstances.

“He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness.” EG 270

These “communal niches” include groups of conservative Catholics who only attend the Latin Mass, and who act as if they were a Church within the Church, as if they were an elite group of true believers, within the greater body of unfaithful Catholics. I would not be surprised if Pope Francis were to restrict greatly the use of the Latin Mass (the Vetus Ordo)

“Far from trying to appear better than others, we should “in humility count others better” than ourselves (Phil 2:3). The Lord’s apostles themselves enjoyed “favour with all the people” (Acts 2:47; 4:21, 33; 5:13). Clearly Jesus does not want us to be grandees who look down upon others, but men and women of the people. This is not an idea of the Pope, or one pastoral option among others; they are injunctions contained in the word of God which are so clear, direct and convincing that they need no interpretations which might diminish their power to challenge us. Let us live them sine glossa, without commentaries. By so doing we will know the missionary joy of sharing life with God’s faithful people as we strive to light a fire in the heart of the world.” EG 271

Which Catholics count themselves as better than others? It is a common fault. But worse still are those online commentators who count themselves as better than the Pope. They literally believe that they understand Catholic Christianity better than Pope Francis. And I see many examples online of various traditionalist Catholics who act like “grandees”, who speak as if the conservative Catholic subculture has understood Catholicism and all other Catholics are lost and blind.

As for living the Faith “without commentaries”, this seems to be directed in part at online commentaries by some Catholics. They offer a version of the Catholic Faith which has been “photoshopped” by radical re-interpretation. This severe distortion and oversimplification of magisterial teaching includes a personal point of view that cannot be supported by Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, or any theological argument.

“Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love.” EG 274

Pope Francis understands the universal salvific will of God, and he expresses that understanding in his teaching. The view of the most conservative Catholics is that the vast majority of human persons go to Hell: prenatals, infants, and young children, who die without formal baptism; non-Christians and even non-Catholic Christians who know about the Church and do not convert; and all unbelievers. But their opinion on this important topic of salvation theology is not compatible with the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, and not compatible with the teachings of Pope Francis.

“mission is not like a business transaction or investment, or even a humanitarian activity. It is not a show where we count how many people come as a result of our publicity; it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement.” EG 279

Many forms of social media fit this criticism well. People seek to put on a show, online, that will give them a higher “hit count” of visitors, or more “likes”, or more “followers”. But evangelization, even when it makes use of modern forms of social communication, must avoid this type of shallow self-promotion.

“One form of prayer moves us particularly to take up the task of evangelization and to seek the good of others: it is the prayer of intercession.” EG 281

Praying for the conversion of sinners is one of the best forms of evangelization. All sincere prayer contributes to the missionary work of the Church.

“We ask the Mother of the living Gospel to intercede that this invitation to a new phase of evangelization will be accepted by the entire ecclesial community.” EG 287

In the past, the term “new evangelization” had a certain meaning and application. But with this Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis is opening a new chapter in evangelization. The latest in the Church’s continual efforts to renew the presentation of the Gospel to the world begins with Evangelii Gaudium.

“We ask the Mother of the living Gospel to intercede that this invitation to a new phase of evangelization will be accepted by the entire ecclesial community.” EG 282


This commentary on Evangelii Gaudium has a total of 8 parts. This post is part 8.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Evangelii Gaudium: Pope Francis rebukes conservative Catholics (part 8)

  1. Francisco says:

    Thank you Ron.

    I have read EG as well as all of your 8 post with commentary.

    I have also read some of those arrogant comments on the web who claim to know better than, not only the Pope, but God Himself, for they are saying “It was a mistake that this Pope was elected”. Amazing. As if Jesus chose Peter based on his exterior, worldly credentials.

    May God have mercy on us all and God bless Pope Francis.

  2. Phillip says:

    Even if Saint Peter himself were to be elected pope today, the usual malcontents would have the following complaints:

    1) He smells like fish
    2) His vestments are pretty shabby
    3) He’s not well educated
    4) He denied ever knowing Jesus
    5) He once attacked a guy and lopped his ear off
    6) He doesn’t speak enough languages
    7) He doesn’t seem fully committed to the Latin Mass
    8) His baptismal technique is too sloppy
    9) His sermons are too accessible to the common man
    10) He’s been in jail several times.

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