Francis signed document saying that God willed the “pluralism and diversity of religions”. What’s up with that?

UPDATE 6 Feb 2019

Fr. Hunwicke posted a comment at his splendid blog.  HERE

Fr Zed has given a characteristically fine and intelligent interpretation of PF’s words. As have some others.

Having perused them, I am also rather interested in what some parts of the Jewish Community might think of any suggestion that the Holocaust was willed by God as part of His “permissive will”.

What Fr Zed and others have done is (this is not irony; I mean it) absolutely essential; it is truly necessary. In the great task which some future pontificate will inherit, of putting the Papal Magisterium back up on its feet after the disasters of this pontificate, it wo’n’t do just to say “That man was repeatedly, disastrously, wrong”. Because the obvious corollary of this is that any pope may be horribly wrong. The standing of the Successor of S Peter will need to be restored, for the good of the Chyrch and for however much time there will be before the End. So, surely, it will have to be said that there are ambiguities in his scripts which need to be interpreted carefully and authoritatively in order to rescue them, and him, from apparent heresy.

But I do think it is outrageous that pastors and academics should have to waste their time dreaming up these ‘interpretations’ of yet another PF disaster. By the way: was Cardinal Ladaria shown this text?  [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

Originally Published on: Feb 5, 2019

I have recently paid as little attention as allowable to most of what is coming from the pens of Rome.  However, this needs some attention.

Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahamad al-Tayyib, signed a document on “Fratellanza Umana per la Pace Mondiale e la convivenza comune… Human Fraternity for world peace and living together”.

The document presents some affirmations and aspirations. It contains the following head-scratching statement. Emphases mine…

Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept;

Do you get that?  “The pluralism and diversity of religions” is “willed by God”.

We must seek a way to understand this without it sounding like heresy.  Note well that, after that awkward phrase, the continuation speaks to our freedom to believe, etc.  That hints at a solution.

God did not will a diversity of religions in the sense that all religions are equal paths to God.  False religions are evil.  God does not actively will evil.

When we speak of God’s will we make distinctions.  God has an “active or positive will” and a  “permissive will”.    God’s “active will” concerns that which is good, true and beautiful.  On the other hand, God has a “permissive will” by which He allows that things will take place that are not in accord with the order He established.

For example, God created Adam and Eve to live a certain way according to their nature and His will.  However, He foresaw that they would fall and He permitted them to fall.  By His active will they were to live a certain way.  By His permissive will they strayed and fell.  In the end, even all that God permits to go wrong will eventually be righted.

Consider that a multiplicity of languages, which God imposed at the Babel incident in Genesis 11, was a sign of God’s disapprobation and medicinal punishment.  God willed that the people should rely on God, not on their own works.  He permitted them to defy Him and rely upon themselves.  The multiplicity of languages He imposed was a punishment for evil, ultimately meant to correct their behavior and also to foreshadow the Pentecost event.

Did God positively, actively will the evil heart-ripping religion of the Aztecs?   He permitted it.  The greatness of the Mother of God was shown to be that much greater when, by her intercession, that evil came to its end.

Did God positively, actively will the vast multiplication of Christian sects, contrary to Christ’s prayer “that they be one” and His positively willed act to found one, and not many, churches?

God wants certain things by His positive or active will.  God allows the contrary to take place by His permissive will.  In any case, nothing happens outside of the will of God, who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

God allows evil and brings forth greater goods from the evil He permits.

Read in this way, namely, that by God’s permissive will there are a multiplicity of religions, etc., that statement in the document, above, is acceptable.

If you read the statement to mean that by God’s positive or active will there are a multiplicity of religions, that’s an error.  That would impute to God the active willing of false religions and, therefore, evil, which is impossible and contrary to reason.

God cannot positively will evil.  God can only, by His nature, permissively will evil.

I don’t know what the writers of the document intended.   I’m just telling the truth about what is written.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, The Drill, What are they REALLY saying? and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Caesar says:

    I really like the optimism, but can we really hope that this interpretation is what was intended?

  2. rtjl says:

    “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

    In one of these categories, we can say that God positively willed diversity and it was a good thing. God willed diversity in sex and made us male and female and that is a good thing. In another category it seems God willed diversity but he seems to have willed it either as a punishment or as limitation on prideful ambition: God willed diversity in language in order to prevent us from “getin’ too big for our britches”.

    Even if we do conclude that God positively willed diversity in religion, we would still have to ask why? Is that really the unqualified good that Pope Francis seems to think it is? Or is it rather some kind of concession or response to humanity’s rejection of God? Did he will diversity in religion because some religion is better than no religion?

    Or maybe I’m just trying too hard to interpret this statement in a positive light.

  3. rcg says:

    I am under the impression that Islam believes God wills everything, even evil. This is in contrast to what God Himself has revealed, that He is pleased to allow it so that we may grow to know Him better. This sounds like some of the Protestant heresies.

  4. surritter says:

    There are two types of “God’s will,” if I recall. There is His ordaining will and His permissive will. [Didn’t I just post that?] We can only hope that Francis was referring to the permissive will of God. That’s the only way to read this thing with any hope of salvaging orthodoxy. Sigh.

  5. Hidden One says:

    Thank you, Father, for this post.

    Since the text does not specify, and there is an orthodox interpretation–that given by Fr. Z.–we are bound by charity (and perhaps also common sense?) to take the orthodox interpretation. Problem solved. We *really* don’t need a “Spirit of HFfWP&LT” take.

  6. Georgemartyrfan says:

    An ordinary reading of the statement would attribute the same level of intent/will to the entire sentence, particularly when the “will” referred to earlier in the sentence is defined as the same will “through which He created human beings,” which would be active will. [No. That isn’t the ordinary reading.]

  7. hilltop says:

    While Catholics rightly have major reservations about the early parts of the quote above, Muslims will have major outrage at the latter part:
    This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept;
    So… forced “conversions” are illegitimate as are The killing of apostates, and the tax on Jews and Christians. And this whole centuries-long difficulty between Shia and Sunni is a whole waste of time. And all these errors are willed by Allah! Go figure.
    Which raises the question: Why spend time on these sorts of “agreements”?

  8. WmHesch says:

    I think it’s fair to call this document Bergoglio’s Masonic Manifesto

    [Perhaps. If you have determined to read malice into the passage.]

  9. Mike says:

    It takes no great imagination to envision how the liberal interpretation of this manifesto will slither through future generations of what is left of the Church. Once again, the Great Commission has been eclipsed by equivocation.

  10. Herman Joseph says:

    “An ordinary reading of the statement would attribute the same level of intent/will to the entire sentence, particularly when the “will” referred to earlier in the sentence is defined as the same will “through which He created human beings,” which would be active will.”

    As GeorgeMartyrFan wrote above…Fr. Z., I don’t see a good way around this one. [Then perhaps you are out of your depth.] And if he meant permissive will, then I think the word to use would be “allowed,” not willed–he “allowed” a plurality of religions. That would make sense. But here we read God “willed” them, and since that one word is defining the type of will for the most of the rest of this sentence, and there is no distinction being made, this sentence seems to claim God willed false religions.

    Not only that, if the Pope did not write this, but Muslims wrote it, or also wrote it, we need to look at the intent of the other parties as well, what they understood by God “willing” a plurality of religions. At the very least, supposing the Pope really understood it that way, this is grave scandal. Look at it this way: if a bunch of people–murderers and good people–wrote a document saying, “It is OK to kill people,” they could both sign it, the former meaning “It is OK to murder” the latter meaning “It is OK to kill in self-defense when necessary,” but it would be at the same time tremendous scandal to sign such a statement with such people. I know–this is not about murder–indeed it is worse, because here we are dealing with the potential loss of souls, worse than the loss of the body.

    I just cannot see a good way out of this; it’s either grave scandal or apostasy, and either way it needs to be dealt with ASAP by the Pope making the right distinction or by Cardinals doing what they ought, advising the Pope and correcting him and publicly if he won’t publicly correct this himself.

  11. chesterton63 says:

    What I find deeply disturbing in this joint statement is that Muslims are allowed to lie by their religion. [YES! That is point to remember.] So, even though they believe that God’s will is that everyone converts to Islam (even by force), they may well agree that God’s will calls for many religions. This is just a temporary, tactical lie, waiting for a time in which everyone shall be forced to become a Muslim or die.
    But Christians aren’t allowed to lie in this way. And even signing an ambiguous statement, saying that God’s will is to have more than one religion, without specifying which God’s will we are talking about, to me is a sort of lie. [Perhaps you ought to read the post, at the top.]

  12. LarryW2LJ says:

    Thank you again, Fr. Z. I only wish the Holy Father were as crystal clear as you are at explaining things. I hate it when I’m left scratching my head.

    [My take is that documents should bring GREATER clarity. Alas, that is not what we have seen. We have to write multiple paragraphs now to clarify short, troubling phrases.]

  13. Imrahil says:

    There is one sense in which the statement is correct.

    There is another sense in which it is intended to be read — as evidenced, if from no other reason, by the fact that “religion” is here in a list together with “colour, sex, race”, things whose diversity God actually did will (it would be an interesting question whether that is true about “language” as well, and what Gen 11 has to say about this, but this is an aside), that is with his positive and not only his permissive will. The only thing we can say about this is: may God spare our Holy Father the punishment which would be deserved for this; and may he spare the Church the temptation to listen to her shepherd.

  14. taylorhall95 says:

    This document is horrendous. There is not one single mention in it of Our Lord Jesus Christ or the Blessed Trinity.

    It speaks of human (read Masonic) fraternity, but does not speak about the peace that Christ gives. There is a big difference between a false concord based upon agreeing to ignore the Truth and a true peace based on allowing Christ to reign as King of our hearts and societies. Thank you Pope Pius XI for reminding us of that in Mortalium Animos.

    While I respect father that you have tried to give this document a positive interpretation, I don’t see how that helps the situation. The plain reading of this entire document clearly indicates false ecumenism. Catholics are rightly scandalized by this. [Have readers taken a obtuse potion? I didn’t set out to explain the DOCUMENT. I explains that PASSAGE.]

    Oh how I long for a future Church council to make judgments about this pontificate so that confusion will be cleared up.

  15. Lurker 59 says:

    The document intends for “pluralism and diversity of religions” to be understood as something positive and positively willed by God. We know this because the next sentence dwells on the thought (instead of dwelling on any of the other listed things “willed by God”) “This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. ” The document argues that a right, founded upon divine wisdom, to one’s individual religion and freedom to persist in that religion (“freedom to be different”). A right to something exists only when that something is a fundamental in a positive sense. People don’t have a right to evil things nor things permitted / passively willed. [That’s a tortured misreading, I think of the passage and its context, considered with the sentence that followed.]

    That said, the document is self contradictory because one cannot hold that God wills a plurality of religions and divine wisdom guarantees the right to persist in one’s religion while also holding, stated earlier, “The first and most important aim of religions is to believe in God, to honor Him and to invite all men and women to believe that this universe depends on a God who governs it.”

    If we rephrase things a bit, the previous sentence is very close to the missionary mandate of Islam.
    It is not, however, the missionary mandate of Catholicism. The missionary mandate of Catholicism is not to spread belief in Allah, that all is dependent upon Allah’s will, and submission to the governance of Allah’s law (Shar??ah). The missionary mandate of Catholicism is (CCC 849-856) is, being founded upon God’s love (not will), to bring people into discipleship and through baptism into a share in the Divine Communion (not governance of law).

    Different religions believe in different gods who will different things and thus govern the universe differently. That is the problem with documents like this one — while they prattle, they don’t actually respect religious differences for, at those documents’ core, they posit a universalism based on natural theology, a god of the philosophers, where actual cultic and theological differences between religions are extemporaneous, superfluous, and harmful to mutuality and dialogue.

  16. HvonBlumenthal says:

    I am going to ask a Muslim friend what she thinks of this document. I expect she will be as outraged on her side as I am on mine.

  17. Sawyer says:

    Go ye into the world and sign statements with all nations in the name of Political Correctness, Diversity and Inclusion.

  18. boredoftheworld says:

    We’ve endured years of explanations of how what we’re seeing isn’t what we’re seeing and the mental gymnastics now require Olympic skills to master. Most of us don’t have those skills and even more people no longer care. Beyond that, who are we to object to the plain meaning of the text yet again? [The plain meaning of the text, if you are not pre-determined to find everything BAD in it, is what I explained. However, I very much resonate with the general frustration at lack of clarity in documents and the possibility that something is slithering in, as in Amoris laetitia.]

    Words no longer mean anything and if they do (they don’t) they don’t mean what we thought they meant (not that they mean anything). Father please, stop giving aid and comfort to the enemy. [That’s just plain malicious.] If anyone objects to my use of words please tell me who is being helped by all of the “these are not the droids you’re looking for” mind tricks. It’s been difficult enough these last 19 years vaccinating my children against the evils of the world. The lack of any episcopal support has been unnecessarily painful, the active opposition from our shepherds is inexcusable and unforgivable.

  19. Amerikaner says:

    Again we have ambiguity. Whoever is writing these documents for the Holy Father needs to make the intent clear. [Alas, Francis has chosen his ghost writers and he puts his signature on what they write, thus making it his own.] Has there ever been a case prior to the 1950’s where documents issued by the Pontiff were this vague?

  20. Andrew says:

    God … desires all men to … to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4)

    In my word … you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

  21. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Further to my previous post, my moslem friend finds the Imam’s stance impossible. She says she would not be surprised if some one takes a shot at him.

  22. Lurker 59 says:

    @HvonBlumenthal If your friend can speak Arabic, especially if it is her first language, is there any differences, structural or semantic, between the Arabic and the English for this paragraph?

    I cannot imagine a Muslim, who takes “the struggle” seriously, being pleased with this document, even though it is, in my reading, more so Islamic than Christian. As a Catholic, all the time and effort to offer this document, and all the surrounding events of its promulgation, to the world but not baptism is striking as to how far astray the authors are from the Missionary Mandate of the Church.

    This document is not a vague nor ambiguous document. It is only such when one attempts to interpret it using a hermeneutic that is foreign to the documents own internal logic. There is a very prevalent academic fiction that seeks to find unity amongst different religions by considering that the cultic and spiritual elements of the religions are false and a hindrance to “true religion”, which is understood as those elements of the human condition that promote mutuality, commonality, and universalism through a recognition of the human dignity in the person of the other.

    The above can be found in the document directly here –> “Dialogue among believers means coming together in the vast space of spiritual, human and shared social values and, from here, transmitting the highest moral virtues that religions aim for. It also means avoiding unproductive discussions”.

    It cannot be stressed enough how much the Catholic authors of the document find the cultic and spiritual aspects of Catholicism (and any religion) to be problematic, a hindrance to ecumenical dialogue, and ultimately not actually important to the furthering of “true religion”. When we read this document with this in mind, the document is very clear. It is not the position of the Catholic authors of this document that the world is saved by the Divine Liturgy. It is saved by encounter and accompaniment of “the other” human person.

  23. Letholdus says:

    “We must seek a way to understand this without it sounding like heresy.”

    Is it normal for statements made by popes to be so exhausting for the faithful? Asking as a convert approaching his first anniversary…

  24. Gab says:

    I smell nothing but appeasement from this pope. I prefer to smell the incense of evangelisation.

    By His permissive will, we get the pope we deserve. My only remedy is to pray harder for this pope and for God’s one, true, holy, catholic and Apostolic church.

  25. Traductora says:

    What was the language of Francis’ statement? I realize that he doesn’t come up with these things on his own, so it probably doesn’t matter. But the original, if in Spanish, might reveal a bit more.

    That said, I would doubt that Francis or anyone under him understands or cares about the distinctions. I think he meant what it looks like he meant.

  26. HvonBlumenthal says:

    @Lurker I shall ask her but it may take a couple of days. She is a Berber but like all devout Moslems reads the Koran in classical Arabic.

    Interestingly she characterized the Imam as a “modernist”. I asked her what that meant to her and she replied “someone who thinks the truth is a matter of public opinion.” It is at times like this that I feel more sympathy with a devout moslem than a don’t-know-don’t-care Catholic.

  27. Spinmamma says:

    What is the purpose of a joint statement that uses words that mean different things to the parties involved and is couched in ambiguity so any reader can impose his/her own meaning to it? [That’s precisely how the early Church resolved controversies in credal statements of Councils.] Guile is unbecoming to the Vicar of Christ. While a measure of deviousness may oil the wheels of social interaction is trivial matters to avoid hurt feelings, it is my opinion it will cause more conflict in great matters, such as the relations between Islam and Christianity, once the parties and their many factions realize there was no meeting of the minds and each faction seeks to force its own interpretation on others.

  28. Roy Hobbs says:

    “We must seek a way to understand this without it sounding like heresy.”

    We do?

    Father, it would appear that this blog has gone from “What Does The Prayer Really Say?” to “What Did The Pope Really Say?”

    [First, may I point out that in Malamud’s novel, Roy Hobbs fails in the end? This blog has gone from “What Does The Prayer Really Say?” to being “Fr. Z’s Blog”. And, yes, WE DO need to seek a way to understand that passage in a good way. Think about it.]

  29. ALL: I’ve deleted some comments that clearly violated the stricture I imposed on the combox for all: THINK before posting.

    I am now turning on the moderation queue, since clearly some of you cannot exercise self-control.

    Believe me, I get it. The fact that so many are acting with sheer outrage about this document is a sign that all is not well. However, I will also observe that, by this point, there are a great number of people who, if Francis, made an observation about the weather, they would freak out and accuse him of all manner of mischief.

    People, try to understanding these next two points.

    First, by my role in the Church and by the dictates of charity I am obliged to try to read what Church documents say in the best light possible.

    Second, it was not my intention to interpret the whole document, but rather that passage alone.

    Neither of those two affirmations mean that I, like many of you, are not terrifically frustrated by the situation we find ourselves in.

    Look at it this way.

    Once upon a time I used to hear that a document was about to be issued, and the first thing I did when it came out was hunt up all the great stuff in it. Now, when I hear that something is to be issued, I dread its appearance and – contrary to my desires – I find myself looking for everything BAD before looking for the good. I don’t like this state of affairs. I don’t like my new inclination and I fight against it. I have the role of explaining especially hard elements, and especially to those who don’t have the same background that I am privileged to have.

    If you are disposed to read the controversial statement in the document so that you find heresy in it, then… maybe you are right… maybe the writer and signer intended something heretical. However, if you are wrong, then you have gone astray. Sadly, again and again we find ambiguous phrases in documents. Hence, we are getting more and more frustrated.

    Finally, my combox is not the place simply to vent or spew anything you want.

    Keep the knucklehead stuff out of my combox.

    If you have thoughtful and careful observations to make, great! Make them. If you just want to spew, please keep it to yourself.

  30. JesusFreak84 says:

    I mean in all sincerity that maybe this post needs its own spot in the “greatest hits” banner at the blog’s top: I’m having to stick it in my bookmarks bar in my browser for when I’m tempted to have my own “spittle-flicking nutties” or whatever it is <.<;;;

    [Thanks for not having a spittle-flecked nutty.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  31. In our time, documents issuing from Rome are remarkable for their prolixity and ambiguity. Would these problems persist if we went back to Latin?

  32. Orlando says:

    At what point do we just start ignoring everything coming from Rome. This constant interpreting what he said or didn’t say, what he wrote but really meant or how to decipher the double speak is frankly ridiculous. This latest inanity will have a longer lasting negative impact then “who am I to judge”. He confirmed what an ever growing number of people believe , all religions get you to the same place just be a good person, do good, be nice and all will be forgiven . For those that know the one true Faith this nonsense will go in one ear and out the other , however good luck converting the unfaithful.

  33. Gab says:

    In all seriousness I don’t know what Pope Francis is trying to achieve. The last document he signed on the world stage was with the Chinese. Since then persecutions of the faithful in China have increased. Perhaps this is the Pontiff’s way of opening the door to evangelising for God?

  34. Mario Bird says:

    A lawyer’s take:

    1. Noscitur a sociis. As some have already pointed out, the interpretation is obscured because of the obvious contrast between “pluralism” and “diversity of religions”–abstract concepts with political and theological undertones–with immutable, concrete realities such as “colour,” “sex,” “race,” and “language.” Well, formerly immutable, concrete realities.

    2. The latter four–particularly in these U.S. of A.–are fraught with technical legal meanings relating to non-discrimination lawsuits.

    Mayhaps a theologian could explain which hermeneutics should be used. So far, I see (1) charity, (2) continuity with tradition. Anything else?

    “Textualism is often associated with rules of interpretation called the canons of construction–which have been widely criticized, indeed even mocked, by modern legal commentators. Many of the canons were originally in Latin, and I suppose that alone is enough to render them contemptible.” — Antonin Scalia (RIP)

  35. cajunpower says:

    The problem is not necessarily that the passage analyzed by our gracious host was unclear. It can certainly be construed as at least colorably orthodox. The problem is that Catholic doctrine is so clear, and this statement is so unclear. It undoubtedly can be construed as decidedly unorthodox.

    I don’t really believe the problem with Roman Catholics is that they take too hard a line on Islam and aren’t willing to respect their Muslim neighbors. Some do, sure – but it’s a very small minority. The much bigger problem plaguing Roman Catholicism, and occidentals in general, is the pervasiveness (dictatorship?) of relativism, which reduces everything in its wake to pablum.

    All of that said, the Pope is shepherd of all Catholics by virtue of his office, and part of his flock happens to reside on the Arabian peninsula. Hopefully the statement has bought some goodwill for our confessional brethren.

  36. TonyO says:

    Father Z, you are a model of patience and zealous perspicacity in locating the kernel of truth in that passage. Your explanation of that truth is fantastic.

    I wish to go further and mention a part of the passage that you didn’t refer to:

    Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept;

    Notice that “forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture”. Notice how culture creeps into the statement of religious freedom?

    The problem here is that a culture consists, in large part, in a vast interconnected set of customs. And, by and large, people do have a positive obligation to respect the customs of the society in which they live. This is a bedrock truth of human nature: we are not born as independent, adult individuals with absolute freedom to make our own social structure. We are born into families which already have customs, into a society that already has customs, and we are obliged in conscience to abide by many of those customs, with some exceptions. Many of our basic laws express in specific form the content of our prior customs. Many more customs constitute the normal, and therefore the charitable and socially supportive way, of interacting with your elders, your subordinates, your friends, etc. We have no right to repudiate those customs and our culture without overarching need.

    There are 2 qualifiers to that obligation: first, if for some definite need you must emigrate from your home society, you can (and should) give up much of those customs – because you then take on the obligation to conform yourself (in large part) to the culture of your new home. Second, where a custom is per se evil, you can repudiate it – though the social cost of doing so will be plenty. Fr. Z mentioned the Aztecs and their custom of human sacrifice – a custom any person would have been right to repudiate. And there is a third category that allows for a change in custom: if the custom is not itself the expression of a virtue in society, nor closely allied with and in protection of virtues, it is possible to propose to change the custom for something that better achieves social cohesion. (E.G. trivial customs that can be changed without harm.) But no person has the authority to simply announce that they are changing such a custom out of their will alone.

    The thesis that no person need be bound by customs they don’t like is a lie of liberalism, which asserts that persons should be able to live by however they will. Will is paramount to them.

  37. The Egyptian says:

    at times like this all I can do is sigh, and just ignore the media and the silliness coming out of Rome, some of it’s clergy, and just pray for my soul and follow the eternal teachings as best I can.
    and remember the old saying I heard from long ago, we do not speak of THE Pope, we say THIS Pope, for there WILL in all probability be another one after this one and hopefully he will be better

  38. Emilio says:

    As historic and interesting as this visit was, for my own sanity and spiritual good I prefer to not follow Pope Francis closely anymore. If I don’t follow him closely, I can focus on my own vocation in the Church without the risk of becoming upset or confused by something he says or does. All I know is that I tuned into his two predecessors for inspiration and clarity of teaching, and I would find that in both of them… and that is no longer the case in this Pontificate. For the first time I remember, I chose to not follow a World Youth Day at all. It’s very disconcerting to feel at odds with the reigning Pontiff and those he surrounds himself with, especially if in the past one’s love for the Successor of Peter was so strong. Each time I hear something upsetting from Francis, I find myself tempted to pray for this Pontificate to end, and I’d rather not go there for fear of that being sinful.

  39. MrsAnchor says:

    This is not good, the pure sophistry made in his statement will have its ripple effect downward. The “Church” had always used prudence before to word something as to not cause confusion. The uninspired, ignorant and evil will use this in all vexing manner. Is this not how the architects after Vat II with all the ambiguity used it to their scheme? It didn’t prove to elevate us did it?
    Those that want to twist for their narratives have every door opening to them with his pontificate. This is unacceptable outright heresy, retraction or amendments should be made. The Church has clarity once.
    Grey matter has never served anyone any good. That’s how the Tax Collectors were able to enter the Temple… those in charge and those laity allowed for it.

    St Titus pray for Us! Those first Apostles went all over to quell the improper teachings arising after Jesus’ death & Resurrection. Isn’t it said he was to shun the company of a heretic who he admonished twice? There are great indicators that the Apostle were to be One speak with a one voice… why is it now that ambiguity is allowable?
    Reminds me of what just happened in Virginia with Mrs Tran on the Abortion Bill, she wasn’t as “artful” as she should have been in her wordplay. The slithering snakes are out to mimic Lucifer in his wordplay to Eve…

  40. Therese says:

    “Would these problems persist if we went back to Latin?”

    Hear, hear!

  41. Beltway Catholic says:

    So God antecedently wills the diversity He created but permissively wills the diversity consequent on human sin, i.e, the plurality of religion. Is the latter permissive will not actually, then, a form of punishment for human transgressions of the antecedent will of God whereby He wills that all men be saved and come to knowledge of the truth? It hardly seems like punishment for sin and God’s creative act should be objects of the same verb.

    I grant that the ambiguity can be resolved, but should we, the ecclesia discens, be required to make such an interpretation of the ecclesia docens? To clarify the pope seems to be above our pay grade. We who need to be taught, do we dare to teach?

  42. Beltway Catholic says:

    “Would these problems persist if we went back to Latin?”

    Unfortunately, it is possible to be ambiguous (if not false as well) in Latin. According to Aquinas, truth is “found primarily in an act of the intellect joining and separating […] For the nature of the true consists in a conformity of thing and intellect. Nothing becomes conformed with itself, but conformity requires distinct terms.”

    One may opt not to use “distinct terms” in whatever language one chooses, even Latin. Remember, all teaching documents promulgated by the popes, including Francis, are offered officially in Latin. The problem is either a strategy of deliberate ambiguity or a failure of philosophical and/or theological training. Which one is more becoming of the papacy?

  43. Beltway Catholic says:

    I return to Aquinas: Truth is “found primarily in an act of the intellect joining and separating….a conformity of thing and intellect…requires distinct terms.”

    To teach (inducere) is to lead or draw to a proper judgment of things. To do this, the teacher uses suitable sensible signs, or word, that lead to the certainty of principles understood in proper relation to each other. Unless the teacher uses properly distinguished and distinct terms, truth is not produced in the student.

    In matters of faith, can one man be his own teacher? When St Philip saw the Ethiopian eunuch reading from the scroll of Isaiah, he asked him: “Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest?“ To which the Ethiopian responded: “And how can I, unless some man shew me?” And he desired that Philip sit with him and teach him (Acts 8:30-31).

  44. Gab says:

    Father Z, I appreciate the explanation you have given and am happy to assume that is what the Pope meant. Begs the question though, is this how others across the world will understand it? As in the clarification of permissive, positive and active will of God? Would the Muslims understand it in this context? Would most Catholics and non-Catholics make such a discernment? I think not.

    So it is rather an imprudent action at the very least – or intentional to cause confusion at the worst – by the Pope.

  45. Gab says: Begs the question though, is this how others across the world will understand it?

    Frankly, tens of people will pay attention to this document. Most of them are here, I think (and venting to each other – more tens of people – on twitter).

    While what Francis signed will be touted as a milestone by some insiders, it isn’t going to change much of anything, especially in the Islamic world.

    The Latin phrase fluctus in simpulo comes to mind.

    At the same time, when we who do follow what is going on continue to put together the jigsaw puzzle of his puzzling phrases, this is another neuralgic moment.

  46. Gab says:

    Fr Z, Maybe a fluctus in simpulo but also could be about the frog boiling fable. Or the opening of Pandora’s Box.

    I doubt many will understand that the Pope meant to convey “permissive” will and therefore the outtake to many may well be “if the Pope says all religions are willed by God, then I won’t bother with all the Commandments and rules the Catholic Church teaches and go elsewhere, where the rules are relaxed”. So much for salvation only through Christ’s church.

    I hope that you are right though, in that not many will take notice.

    It’s a pity he didn’t actually include the word “permissive”.

  47. Gabriel Syme says:

    On the return flight from the UAE, Francis said the document in question was signed “in the Spirit of Vatican II”. This is according to Vatican News, as retweeted by Rorate Caeli. [Perhaps you should did up the real quote?]

    Personally I believe that the current Pope and a significant number of both the hierarchy and clergy (likely a majority) do not believe the Catholic Faith is divinely revealed and think one religion is as good as the next. I think that’s quite clear from their actions, pronouncements and priorities.

  48. Pingback: PopeWatch: Heresy – The American Catholic

  49. Father Bartoloma says:

    It’s as simple as 2+2=5.

    [That’s about it.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  50. BrionyB says:

    Thank you, Father, for the interpretation – it seems a reasonable and charitable one. But I’m sure you understand that many of us are still disturbed and confused by this document, especially in the context of so many other, well, disturbing and confusing pronouncements during this papacy.

    What a mess. I think I will try to follow your practice of paying “as little attention as allowable to most of what is coming from the pens of Rome”, and try to focus on living my own life.

  51. gaudiumcumpace says:

    The only ‘way out of this’ is to tred the narrow path of clarity, just as Jesus exemplified in His public discourse. I do not doubt Pope Francis may have good intention in his words, perhaps his charity toward all people gets carried away by feelings rather than true understanding which implicates a disciplined clarity of intention. May God help him be clear in what he holds as Truth in his heart.

  52. teomatteo says:

    Prayer For The Silence of A Pope.

    Dear loving and merciful Father,
    We pray for your Son’s earthly guardian
      of the deposit of faith.
    Grant to your humble servant N. __________
    that he may reserve and decline both speech and writing so as to safeguard your tradition that you so lovingly have bestowed on us for thousands years.
    May you grant our Vicar the peace and courage needed for earthly solitude and contemplation.
    Eternal and loving giver of all that is good, we beseech thee, to guide Him in his duties in living the gospel without words.
    We ask this thru Christ Our Lord.

  53. You’ll notice that I did not dig into the whole document, but only that phrase.

    I fully understand the confusion that has risen, volcano-like, because of documents of the last few years.

  54. GHP says:

    Gabriel Syme says: On the return flight from the UAE, Francis said the document in question was signed “in the Spirit of Vatican II”. This is according to Vatican News, as retweeted by Rorate Caeli. [Perhaps you should did up the real quote?]

    Here’s the quote gleaned from CNA:
    Pope Francis: But not only the Muslims… they accuse me of allowing myself to be used by everyone, even by journalists, it is part of the job. But I want to say one thing. This I emphasize clearly. From the Catholic point of view, the document does not pull away one millimeter from Vatican II, which is even cited a few times. The document was made in the spirit of Vatican II. I wanted, before making the decision, to say it good that way and let’s sign it, at least on my side, I had some theologians read [the document] and even [had it read] officially by the theologian of the Pontifical Household, that is a Dominican, and with the beautiful tradition of the Dominicans not to go on a witch-hunt, but to see where is the right thing… and he approved it.


  55. roma247 says:

    “But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.” (Matthew 5:37)

    **Sigh** How much less pain there would be in the world if only we would take more care to observe this simple statement.

  56. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept;”

    So, driving on the right side of the street in America is optional for a Brit?? Wow, that certainly is being broad-minded of the writer of this document, or is that broad-sided?

    Also, since this document is being “imposed” on Catholics, we must reject it, right? No, no, that’s not it…only the “fact,” that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected. Okay, I reject the fact that people have been forced to adhere to a certain culture or religion. So, no one has been forced to adhere to a religion. Wait, that can’t be right. Why are they writing this sentence if no one has been forced to adhere to a certain culture or religon? The universe these sentences were constructed in must be based on non-Euclidean geometry. This is rubber-sheet theology. This is theology written by the Elongated Man. I’m soooo confused.

    Reading some of the sentences in recent papal documents is like drinking Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled Whisky. It goes smooth on the way down, but causes quite a hangover in the morning.

    The Chicken

    P. S. In no way did I intend to impose an insult on the writers of this document. I only suggested one. It is up to them to decide to freely embrace it.

    I know I’m being cruel, but while they are attempting to argue against forced conversions, might I, likewise, suggest that sentences should not be made to undergo, “forced conversions,” as Fr. Z has had to do to them, in order to make them conform to Catholic norms.

  57. rafferju says:

    The problem with Vatican 11 was very many priests tried to adjust the texts to show if you read it this way there is nothing wrong with it, I always thought that with the internet if vatican 11 were to happen now it would not get through. But clearly I was wrong as Bergolio can say what he wants and we still have “well if you read it this way its not heretical” Look the king has no clothes admit it and be done with it,

  58. Midwest St. Michael says:

    I’m late to the thread… but here goes:

    Fr. Z says: ‘Do you get that? “The pluralism and diversity of religions” is “willed by God”.’

    Well, after reading several postings and subsequent comments regarding this latest… Magisterial(?) document issued by PF and his ghost writers – I cannot help but think of what St. Paul says to the Ephesians in chapter four via the Holy, inerrant, inspired and infallible Word of God:

    “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all,” (Eph 4:4-6)

    In those three verses St. Paul uses the word “one” seven times. There is nothing about “plurality and diversity of religions” much less about such “religions” being “willed by God.”

    St. Paul said *one*.

    But I am merely a lowly catechist from a small town in the foothills of a midwestern state. What do I know and who am I to judge?

  59. Ranger01 says:

    I no longer care. Really, I have mentally checked out of the church. Not the Faith which I believe with all my heart. But the Church apparatus, bishops, cardinals can only piss on the faithful for so long. When Francis dies, likely I will return. Unless one of his gay lieutenants is chosen. That will be it for me, completely.
    The heretic / homosexual poison has corrupted everything. My brain simply can no longer handle it.
    The relentless lies and half-truths are too much to process. This is the Bride of Christ??

  60. christopherschaefer says:

    Another view: “…the affirmation of ‘Dignitatis Humanae’: God wills a plurality of religions because he wills human freedom, and with that religious freedom… It is impossible to have religious freedom without a plurality of potential religious beliefs and practices: if there is only one way to believe, and one way to act out that belief, whence the freedom to discern truth and act upon it?… not only is there need for a variety of potential religions by which people are free to choose, God freely interacted with the development of those religions, giving peoples in their particular times and places those elements of the truth which they not only are prepared for but those which they needed in order to prepare them for greater revelations of the truth (which the fullness of the truth and the fullness of revelation being found in the person of Jesus Christ)…”

  61. Pingback: MORE POPE FRANCIS BEFUDDLEMENT: Does God will false religions? |

  62. SimonK says:

    Father Z, this distinction between God’s “active or positive will” and his “permissive will” to which you refer is very interesting. In my readings of Protestant theology–primarily Calvinist, but Luther expressed similar views–I have encountered the idea of two wills in God, which are variously described as “sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will”, etc (to quote John Piper’s “Are There Two Wills in God?: Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to Be Saved”).

    It is getting somewhat off-topic, but I’d love to see an explanation from someone of the differences and similarities between the Catholic views on this issue and those Protestant views I’ve mentioned.

    [You might start with the Summa by St. Thomas Aquinas. HERE]

  63. Ben Kenobi says:

    Just once, just once can Francis err on the side of rigidity?

  64. dbonneville says:

    I’m truly having an impossible time aligning:

    “2+2 = 5” (Fr. Z starred this…)


    “We must seek a way to understand this without it sounding like heresy.”


    “But I do think it is outrageous that pastors and academics should have to waste their time dreaming up these ‘interpretations’ of yet another PF disaster. ”

    Fr. Z, can you help? If someone says 2+2=5, there is no way to “dream up” a way not to see the obvious heresy.

    Why not just let the bad math stick out, plain and simple, for what it is?

    [Because basic arithmetic is one thing and discussion of God’s will is another.]

  65. Semper Gumby says:

    Ranger01: Yep, perfectly understandable. Frustration and exasperation can reach “enough-is-enough” levels. Just to chip in two cents here, there have been problematic pontificates before and there probably will be again.

    If you are married, no doubt you know that one of the duties of your vocation is to get your lovely bride to Heaven. That can be quite a challenge in this day and age, then again it’s always a challenge. Sometimes it helps to take a break and focus on the good, the true, and the beautiful.

    By the way, excellent username, I wonder if it refers to the Dunedain Rangers or the Army Rangers.

  66. discens says:

    What is striking about the document is not that the Pope signed it (for as Fr. Z points out, it can be given an orthodox, or colorably orthodox, reading), but that the Imam did. I doubt the document can be given even a colorably orthodox reading for Islam.

  67. Ave Crux says:

    The apologetics necessary so often when Pope Francis speaks or issues documents is just a way of providing immediate damage control for the Faithful, so they are not thrown into confusion and led to imbibe (his) heresy, to their own detriment.

    The effort to distinguish between permissive will and positive will is fine; however, that’s not necessary to clarify what Pope Francis actually said.

    To WILL something is a verb. To PERMIT something is a another verb which means something entirely different.

    The LATTER verb (to PERMIT) is used to express when God’s permissive will allows an evil, and is the way a true man of the Church expresses something of this nature in order to be sure it is clearly understood and does not lead his sheep into error, and/or cannot possibly be construed as the heretical notion that God WILLS to contradict Himself in the various and serious moral and dogmatic contradictory beliefs of erroneous religions.

    Pope Francis signed a document saying God WILLED the different religions, not PERMITTED the different religions. Why does he insist on contradicting the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ?

    Come, Lord Jesus!

  68. Ave Crux says:

    Faithful Catholics ought not to be neutralized in a proper indignation over such betrayals of the Faith established by our Lord Jesus Christ, both for their own sake in repelling the error as well as for the sake of the Church at large.

    In fact, St Thomas Aquinas teaches that not to be angry when it is called for is itself a sin, as noted in the following excerpt from from Catholic Answers on this very question:

    “Righteous versus Unrighteous Anger (2302-3)
    …An ordered anger is directed to a legitimate object, and, with an appropriate degree of vehemence. An inordinate anger is directed either to an illegitimate object, or, with an unreasonable vehemence. As St. Thomas Aquinas notes, vice may be by defect, as well as excess. So, the presence of evil should provoke a righteous anger, which if absent constitutes a sinful insensibility.

    “Consider the just anger of the Lord to the presence in the Temple of the money-changers and the action He took (John 2:13-17). Provoked by this offense against His Father, Jesus formed whips and drove them from the Temple.

    “Righteous anger, and the acts which flow from it, intend the correction of vice (both for the good of the individual sinner and the common good), the restoring of the order of justice disturbed by sin, and the restraint of further evil.”

Comments are closed.