Reading Francis Through Benedict… no… really… try it!

A clever reader caught this and posted about it in the combox elsewhere.

Compare a section of Pope Francis general audience today to Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth part II:

One initial difference is that in the confessional tradition only men are named as witnesses, whereas in the narrative tradition women play a key role, indeed they take precedence over the men. This may be linked to the fact that in the Jewish tradition only men could be admitted as witnesses in court—the testimony of women was considered unreliable. So the “official” tradition, which is, so to speak, addressing the court of Israel and the court of the world, has to observe this norm if it is to prevail in what we might describe as Jesus’ ongoing trial.

The narratives, on the other hand, do not feel bound by this juridical structure, but they communicate the whole breadth of the Resurrection experience. Just as there were only women standing by the Cross—apart from the beloved disciple—so too the first encounter with the risen Lord was destined to be for them. The Church’s juridical structure is founded on Peter and the Eleven, but in the day-to-day life of the Church it is the women who are constantly opening the door to the Lord and accompanying him to the Cross, and so it is they who come to experience the Risen One.

pp. 262-263

From Francis’ Wednesday audience:

Another element. In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women.

Francis goes on to call upon women, especially mothers, to give witness to Christ.  He decidedly does NOT suggest that they should have a greater role in the Church’s juridical structure (i.e., ordination).  Benedict makes that point in his comments, which surely Pope Francis (or his scribbling elves) was looking at.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Mary T says:

    Yes, I too noticed this. Your remark about reading Francis through Benedict is right on the money.

    And forgive me for double posting (I will shorten it here), but remember the 1995 “Responsum ad Dubium”, when the question was sent in as to whether the teaching that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination to women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordination Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of the faith.”

    The answer was quite clear:

    “Responsum: In the affirmative. This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God and from the beginning constantly preserved in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium ……the Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II approved this reply…and ordered it to be published.”

    The Responsum was signed by Cardinal Ratzinger. Does anyone truly believe Francis will throw this out the window? The mainstream press seems to think so.

  2. mamajen says:

    Oh, that explains why I didn’t remember that particular passage–I’m still on Part I. It was obvious from their meeting that Pope Francis holds Benedict in very high esteem, and it’s neat to see further evidence of that.

  3. PA mom says:

    I am reading Part 1 now, and had realized after someone posted that Holy Week was not included!
    Also wonderful how he relates the non credible women at Easter to the shepherds and Christmas, and simple, humble Faith.
    And can you imagine the dynamics between the men and those women after that? “so, next time I tell you something…”. ” yeah, I know, I know…”. ;)

  4. catholicmidwest says:

    Actually, I like the idea of a reciprocal reading between the three: PJPII, PBXVI & PF. They have much in common, although there are differences, but that’s only to be expected.

  5. rcg says:

    Just a thought: have you thought of forwarding a link to your blog to the Holy Father? He does so many things for himself, he might like to sit up at night in his cot with his iPad and a flashlight getting up to speed on what is going on at the frontier of Liturgical Renovation.

  6. Mandy P. says:

    I’ve been re-reading the first volume Jesus of Nazareth and also noticed how the tone of Pope Francis is similar to that of Benedict. The gentleness, joy, and love of men in love with Christ shine through both. I also find it amusing how gentle and pastoral Benedict’s writing is whenever I read him, as opposed to the “God’s Rottweiler” nickname he ended up with.

    I will say, as a woman and mother, that I really appreciate this emphasis on the traditional role of women as a GOOD thing by our Holy Father. We get so little positive reinforcement in the current culture that it’s just a relief and a pleasure to hear someone praise our natural role aloud. I am not a man and the cultural expectation that’s should be more like a man (and conversely that my husband should be more like a woman) is quite tiresome.

  7. BLB Oregon says:

    –“…the cultural expectation that’s should be more like a man (and conversely that my husband should be more like a woman) is quite tiresome…”–Mandy P

    It is worse than that! It is this ridiculous assumption that to be “like a woman” or to be “like a man” is just some made up construct that ignores real humanity. The current falsehood is that gender itself is nothing and means nothing, and that any role that incorporates gender is a false one. How else could people really come to believe, as many well-meaning people have, that there is literally no difference between a homosexual couple and a heterosexual couple? The world has literally taken leave of its senses, because a person has to go through life not believing what anyone can see with their eyes in order to buy this web of lies and self-deceit. How many people with same-sex attraction are being lured into believing it, too!

    You cannot buy into the sacred cows of modern thought without accepting a huge and fantastic web of lies about the nature of the human person. Of course we could not have elected a Pope that the self-described “progressive “thinkers would like! Let us hope we never see that, because we’ll know we are living in the age of the Antichrist if we ever do!

  8. kclark14 says:

    Thanks for this. I grew a bit frantic when I read Reuters’ misleading article smack dab on the front page of Yahoo!

  9. Back pew sitter says:

    Isn’t it likely that Pope Francis’s general audience address had already been prepared before his resignation by Pope Benedict – just as the first series of Pope Benedict’s general audiences (on the psalms for evening prayer) had already been prepared by Pope John Paul II?

  10. Mandy P. says:



  11. they called,as you said,His Holiness Benedict the XVI “God’s Rottweiler”,the German Shepherd and probably a host of others. He was as gentle as a lamb. Now i think they will see Pope Francis as gentle as a lamb and in the end he will be the Rottweiler. Te word irony is over used but it seems pretty appropriate here. God has His way :)

  12. Dr. Eric says:

    Your new header makes it seem to me like the two popes are playing chess or Battleship since you can’t see what’s between them.

  13. Hank Igitur says:

    whatever the content and tone of this and regardless of its authorship the question of women’s “ordination” is not specifically mentioned so any inferences re same are speculative at best.

  14. OrthodoxChick says:

    Here’s another Ratzingerian thing that we can use to read Pope Francis through – his love of classical music! I think this CNS article quoted Pope Francis as saying that the only time he listens to the radio is to listen to classical music and Bach and Wagner are his favorites.

  15. Mr. P. says:

    Benedict devoted a few pages to Francis of Assisi in “Jesus of Nazareth” Vol. I (pp. 77-79).

    Surely, we will find more similarities there that explain Francis’ first month as Successor of Peter (poverty, Sermon not a social program, radical-ness of the first Beatitude, laity living in the world, humility, standing in communion with the Church, etc.).

    Even the world grossly misconstrues St. Francis’ simplicity as some anti-authoritarian-hippie-garden-statue-type instead of the man of the Church, ascetic stigmatist, and lover of God’s creation (not just a nature, environmentalist thing) that he is. Chesterton also noted this in his book on St. Francis. Let us not construe the same error with Francis our Pope.

  16. Deacon Bill says:

    Well, I would hope that no serious person would find continuity within the papal magisterium all that unusual. Understanding Francis in light of Benedict is only the first stage; he should also be read in light of John XXIII (“Pacem in Terris” comes to mind particularly), Paul VI, and both John Pauls.

    Certainly in my own classes we stress such continuities rather routinely.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  17. Gratias says:

    I had noticed the similarity of this sermon to Jesus of Nazareth. There may be some wishful thinking going on. In my NO parish the pastor stopped genuflecting at consecration a few days after Pope Francisco led by example. On Holy Thursday we had liturgical dancers bringing in chrism oils, for the first time. In 27 years of attending this Los Angeles parish I had been fortunate enough to not have experienced liturgical dancers before. I am sorry to say the new Pope is going to have a huge and immediate effect on the liturgy and the Church.

  18. torch621 says:

    Too bad Ann Barnhardt can’t see this, but I think she’s too busy screaming that Pope Francis is about to go on the “warpath” against TLM goers and apologizing for SSPX.

    I just read the woman’s blog and I think I may need to go to confession now, because the hyperbole got my blood boiling. -_-

  19. Mary T says:

    gratias, I haven’t seen liturgical dancers at Francis’s masses, but DID see them a number of times at JPII’s and B16’s masses (usually international ones). I don’t see how you can pin this on Francis. If your priest was not influenced by the many times in the past, he shouldn’t be starting now.

    As fr not genuflecting, I ‘d like to hear Father Z on this; I have seen no other report so I am ignorant.

    But as for “wishful thinking,” that makes no sense. I’ve read a number of things by Cardinal Bergoglio over the years, and the fact that your priest is liberal does NOT erase Francis’s consistent teaching. There were literally THOUSANDS of abuses during the papacy of B 16 and no one blamed the Pope. Sometimes you have to put the blame where it is due.

  20. Traductora says:

    Gratias, maybe you should ask him why he has stopped genuflecting. Has he been the pastor for the last 27 years or is he new? Or did he go and hire a “liturgical director” who might be exerting the usual baleful influence of such people? We had a priest years ago who was pretty harmless (not good, but not offensive) in his celebration, and then he hired a liturgical director, a nutty woman who had the altar servers out running around carrying bowls of fire and brought in one of the most embarrassing liturgical dancers I have ever seen in my life. She was so bad you could only feel sorry for her at having to make such a fool of herself.

    The liturgical dancers must have been planned well in advance of whatever Pope Francis did or did not do, so I don’t think there’s a connection.

    I find it odd that with your new, orthodox archbishop, this priest should finally have decided to adopt the Mahony school of liturgics, so maybe you or somebody in the parish who knows him (if it’s a huge LA parish, this person may be hard to find!) could ask him about it.

    But I don’t think Pope Francis had much to do with it. In my opinion, the worst liturgical influence among the recent popes was JPII, who pretty much let anything happen; it was only as he became frail that then Cdl Ratzinger was able to exert more influence. Liturgy in the 1980s and early 90s was appallingly bad all over the country and the world. Yet nobody holds JPII responsible for it.

    A lot of liturgical practice is bishop-level matter, and the improvement in bishops starting in the early 2000s is having an effect. Now that you have a good cardinal archbishop, you should at least feel that you have some recourse if your priest is wilfully doing things wrong. But you should ask him first.

  21. dbwheeler says:

    Gratias, I agree with you! If you learn nothing else as you grow older, you find out that whenever one’s behavior does not teach just by the doing but must be cross-examined and the ‘real meaning’ explained by ‘experts’, much as we find in obama, who pundits endlessly tell us what was REALLY meant and why he chose to do this and say that, then most probabaly what you’re saying and doing isn’t really authentic. I read this today in the New Oxonian by jrhoffman: Prayer of Pope St.Francis
    Lord, make me an instrument of political persuasion:
    Where there is pomp let me feign humility;
    Where there is skepticism, sincerity;
    Where there is tradition, anything that looks new and comes in white,
    Where there is certainty, relativism;
    Where there is light, gray;
    Where there is doctrine, opinion.
    O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
    Do as be seen to be doing;
    Change things as to pray for changes;
    Be Pope as to be one of the boys who happens to be Pope;
    Teach anything clearly as to listen to absolute drivel from nincompoops in ten languages, including Chinese, and pretend to take it seriously
    For it is in pretending that we are convincing.
    It is in forgiving everyone anything that we look good,
    And it is in chucking it all up in about eight years, more or less, that I am saved…

  22. mamajen says:

    When it comes down to it, nobody is responsible for a priest’s behavior except the priest himself. I learned as a young kid that I can’t blame my bad choices on somebody else’s behavior. Should we hold priests to a lower standard than that? Ridiculous. We still don’t know the reasons behind Pope Francis’ “changes” to date. There may be valid reasons that excuse him from some things but do not apply to everyone. Any priest who was just waiting for an excuse to do things irreverently wasn’t a good priest to begin with.


    I suppose we should blame the writer of that terribly offensive “prayer” for your decision to disseminate it, eh?

  23. cheerios in my pocket says:

    I’m confused, I thought I posted here but it must have been somewhere else. Glad I copied before posting…here it was…

    Excellent! Thanks Fr. Z! I’ve skimmed the posts, and one item that struck me during prayer this morning that I haven’t seen I’d like to share.

    In John 20:11-18, “…Jesus saith to her: Mary. She turning, saith to him Rabboni (which is to say, Master) Jesus saith to her: Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father…”
    As compared with Luke 24:35-48, “…And he said to them: Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle, and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me to have…”

    I went with my daughter’s Douay-Rheims Version vs. my New American Bible because when I was praying today I read that Jesus said, “…Touch me and see…” to the Apostles (men), but to Mary (woman), I recalled Jesus saying, “Do not touch me…”

    I thought this significant. It was as though Jesus directs only men to touch Him (the Eucharist) vs. Mary to not touch Him (the Eucharist that will be distributed by His men, those set apart for this).

    Additionally, I do want to say that any woman concerned about her dignity should listen to Alice Von Hildebrand. Her words truly “cut to the heart” of womanhood. Quick one, why do women wear chapel veils? Because, things that are sacred are veiled (the tabernacle for instance). She has such depth of knowledge of God’s magnificent design. I listened to her speak on EWTN through the internet (I think it was under archived audio) while washing dishes.

  24. torch621 says:

    dbwheeler, whoever wrote that dreck should be ashamed of themselves at such blatant disrespect towards the Holy Father. And frankly, you should be ashamed for posting it here.

    Stuff like that only makes others look at traditionalists as scornful malcontents, even those who would otherwise look at them favorably, and takes away from anything worthwhile they have to say, which is plenty.

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