Pope Francis and the three temptations of the church

Francis three channels

The church faces three temptations, according to Pope Francis: the temptation to turn the Gospel message into an ideology; to run the church like a business; and the temptation of clericalism, writes Tomas Reese.

Making the Gospel message an ideology

This temptation, the pope argues, has been present in the church from the beginning. It attempts to interpret the Gospel apart from the church or the Gospel itself. Francis says you must look at the Gospel with the eyes of a disciple. There is no such thing as 'antiseptic' hermeneutics.

Other forms of the ideological temptation include sociological reductionism and psychologizing. The first interprets the Gospel message through the lens of social science, whether from a Marxist or libertarian perspective. Here, the Gospel is manipulated for political reasons. It is a temptation of both the right and the left to use the Gospel to serve political goals. Fear of this temptation probably led Francis to be cautious toward liberation theology while at the same time very negative toward libertarian capitalism.

The temptation to psychologize the faith, on the other hand, is individualistic. 'Here we have to do with elitist hermeneutics which ultimately reduces the 'encounter with Jesus Christ' and its development to a process of growing self-awareness.' This is a self-centered spirituality that "has nothing to do with transcendence and consequently, with missionary spirit."

Although he does not mention it, another danger of this temptation is that it fosters a passive, 'feel-good' spirituality rather than an active spirituality that works to make the world a better place. He believes this kind of self-centered spirituality can be found even in spirituality courses and spiritual retreats.

Related to this self-centered spirituality is the temptation to the Gnostic solution. 'It is ordinarily found in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied," he says. Gnosticism first appeared among early Christians, and it reappears throughout the church's history in new and revised versions. "Generally its adherents are known as 'enlightened Catholics' (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment).'


The second temptation of the church is to functionalism, which Pope Francis believes has the effect of paralyzing the church. 'More than being interested in the road itself, it is concerned with fixing holes in the road.' It 'has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency.' This is the temptation of church bureaucrats. 'It reduces the reality of the church to the structure of an (nongovernmental organization). What counts are quantifiable results and statistics.' Francis does not want the church to end up 'being run like any other business organisation.'

FULL STORY Pope Francis and the three temptations of the church (NCR)

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