Pope Francis – did you notice?

Slowly we can begin to notice little things about Pope Francis as we scrutinize and reflect. They may mean nothing or everything… or something in between! :-p

Schütz, over at Sentire cum Ecclesia, noted that in his first address to the people as pope, Francis did not use the word “pope” once, but he referred to himself as Bishop of the Church of Rome nine times. His article should be read for the context surrounding his observation. But the thrust of it is that Francis sees himself, so it would seem, primarily as Bishop of Rome. Of course he also made the point of saying that the Church of Rome presides in charity over all the churches.

Significant? It may well be. We must remember that in Argentina as archbishop of Buenos Aires Francis acted as ordinary for eastern-rite Catholics. Apart form suggesting that he may have more liturgical nous than the average Jesuit ( no offence boys), it suggest also that he has a strong awareness of the eastern Churches, and that this will colour his ecumenical approach. It was noted in posts here in the last couple of weeks that the Russian and Greek patriarchs felt that immense progress had been made in Benedict XVI’s pontificate, and hoped that this legacy would not be squandered. Perhaps Francis is precisely the man, with his eastern-rite experience, to further this ecumenical project. He is telling them he will not be the monarchical potentate of Orthodox nightmares, but preside in charity, first among equals, which is an understanding already established in Orthodox ecclesiology.

Schütz puts his own context as that of an ecclesiology fleshed out by a Lutheran friend of his, namely that the Church does not consist of churches, but in churches. In light of Vatican II we might say that the Roman Catholic Church is not the sum total of the true Church, but that the true Church, the Body of Christ, is en-limbed (to coin an ugly but useful word) in the various Churches that acknowledge the primacy of Peter and are in communion with his Successor. If this primacy could be clarified as primarily theological rather than of active governance, the Orthodox might be ready to resume communion. Indeed, the Orthodox would accept the Pope as court of final appeal with similarly relative ease. There is the filioque to consider, but that has been lived with before, and maybe it can be lived with again.

Today Pope Francis went to Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the four papal basilicas of Rome, where he paid homage to Our Lady Salus populi Romani, or “Protectress of the Roman People”. Again, this emphasis on his being primarily Bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis at Santa Maria Maggiore

But he also went to pray at the shrine of Pope St Pius V, revered by traditionalists as the pope who definitively established the so-called Tridentine Mass, or the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to be more precise. Was this a signal to liturgical traditionalists not to fear?

pius v

Pope St Pius V was a Dominican. Traditionally the Jesuits and Dominicans have been rivals in many fields, and occasionally a little dismissive of each other, to put it mildly. Is this Jesuit pope signalling a little intra-ecclesial ecumenism!? Probably not, but it is fun to think on it a little.

Pope Francis’ style continues in the vein in which he has begun. He went to Santa Maria Maggiore not in his papal limousine but in an ordinary Vatican police car! He entered the basilica by the side door. Some may be discomfited at his apparent refusal to assume the full stature (thus far) of the Roman Pontiff. But it can be argued that the spiritual power of the Pope, the power of the keys, does not need any worldly bolstering. In fact, it might be argued, the Petrine power is best shown in fidelity to Christ as Servant of the Servants of God. The pomp of the papacy might then be more a moral pomp and grandeur, a splendour found in papal doctrine and upholding of the truth.

But I may be wrong. For now, we must watch our new pope and pray for him.

17 thoughts on “Pope Francis – did you notice?

  1. One interesting tidbit is that while Pope Francis may have studied in Germany, he did not go to one of the famous theological faculties like Ratzinger, Schonborn, etc. but to a much smaller one in Frankfurt. His doctor thesis was not completed, but the subject of this unfinished thesis is telling… the theology of Romano Guardini….


    I got a nice feeling when I read that! It is sad though that his appreciation for Guardini unlike Pope Benedict’s did/does not extend to the liturgy. I have to say when I was watching his homily at the Mass for the conclusion of the conclave (delivered in Italian off the cuff), I couldn’t help reminiscing very fondly to 8 years ago, when I was still in school but watching Benedict give his homily, seated and in Latin!

    As to the question of Jesuit vs. Dominicans….the OP every time for me!


    1. Oh Justin – well done! Thank you for sharing that. Quite a revelation. No wonder Papa Ratzi and Francis get on: at the very least they share Romano G. Alles klar! And notice too that Romano = Roman. OK, now I am getting a little carried away. Spookily, I have stayed at the Jesuit faculty in Frankfurt.

      But we must get used to the fact that Francis will not be a Benedict XVI redidivus. He will be his own man, thus the new papal name. And he may yet surprise us on the liturgy.



  2. He also emphasized his role as Bishop of Rome at his opening words at the Urbi et Orbi blessing. I think you’re spot on that this language is for the benefit of the Catholic Eastern Rites and the Eastern Orthodox. It makes me so happy. Let’s start breathing with two lungs again! (sweet irony!)


    1. Oh laddie. It was the Urbi et Orbi that I and Schütz were talking about!

      I’ve just notices that next Wednesday Pope Francis is meeting with delegates from the eastern Catholic churches. Super quick that one!

      And note too, he has not re-confirmed any curial officials in office, as is usual within 24 hours of a pope’s election.



  3. Fr Hugh, I’m noticing the Marian theme here: Pope Francis had the crowd recite the three fundamental prayers of the Rosary on the night he was elected, then he went to pray at St Mary Major and, while there, visited the tomb of St Pius V–“the Pope of the Rosary.” This is a beautiful and very promising start to his pontificate that should make even our friends at the RC blog happy! Pax!


    1. Good point. I have been too busy looking up other paths to notice the Marian theme. He has included her every time so far he has spoken. Interesting. A little bit of JPII in him, perhaps?

      PS It is going to take a LOT to keep the RC crowd happy. :-/


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