ASK FATHER: What’s up with Francis’ 2019 Christmas address to the Roman Curia?

I am being bombarded by questions from readers, priests included, about Francis’ 2019 Address to the Roman Curia for Christmas.

Here are a few notes.   First, let’s contextualize the speech, which I think is important as it probably signals what’s up for the next year.

You will recall that Francis has used this occasion, the “exchange of greetings” between the Pope and the members of the Roman Curia, to deliver gut punches.

In his first in 2013 Francis was a little more benign, asking for professionalism in their work. In 2014 he blasted away about clericalism for some 30 minutes. In 2015 he delivered a long list of “curial diseases” and 24 virtues based on the acrostic “misericordia” of the Curial official. In 2016 he excoriated anyone resisting change, listing 12 guidelines for reform, going on for 45 minutes, and then gave all the officials present a book: Tricks to cure the sicknesses of the soul by 16th c. Jesuit General Claudio Acquaviva. Merry Christmas. In 2017 invoked the image of cancer of cliques and of traitors and conspiracies for those are ambitious or who resist reform. In 2018 over 40 minutes he dedicated a lot of time to clerical abusers.

This year Francis seems to have given a counter-message to the Curia address which Benedict made in 2005, one of the most important speeches of his entire pontificate. That was the famous “hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity” speech.  It was also a counter to Jesuit Fr. Rahner’s ongoing but – Deo gratias waning -influence.

In his 30 minute 2019 address Francis mentioned the resignation and new disposition of the Dean of College of Cardinals.  See Sandro Magister for the fascinating backstory on that development.   Surely, that has to do with clearing the deck in the College and readying a conclave: Sodano and Vice-Dean Re are over the age limit for entering a conclave.  The Cardinals will have to test the winds and waters and elect a new Dean.

On an obvious but neuralgic point, Francis (again, citing his favorite source, himself) announced: “Brothers and sisters, Christendom no longer exists!   Today we are no longer the only ones who create culture, nor are we in the forefront or those most listened to.”

Merry Christmas!

What are we to do about that?   We need a ” a change in our pastoral mindset”.  After that he goes into a section changes in the Curia in regard to social communications.

However, Francis also invoked the now proverbial quote from The Leopard: “Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi…. If we want everything to remain as it is, then everything must change.”  He went from there to quote radical progressivist and late-former-Archbp. of Milan Carlo Maria Martini (who was in the Bergoglio camp in 2013 but probably engineered the election of Benedict as things deadlocked), saying: “The Church is two hundred years behind the times. Why is she not shaken up? Are we afraid? Fear, instead of courage?”

And of course he got in his usual digs about “rigidity”, a perennial and predictable theme.

Citing an interview he did with Jesuit Antonio Spadaro (who curiously maintains a site about the Italian homoerotic writer Pier Vittorio Tondelli) there is some word salad:

“God manifests himself in historical revelation, in history.  Time initiates processes and space crystalizes them.  God is in history, in the processes.  We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run historical processes.  We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces.  God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history.  This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics.  And it requires patience, waiting”.

More on this, below.

After citing The Leopard and before launching into the “time is greater than space” stuff, he spoke about “an anthropological conversion.”  I don’t know what that means, but it’s a bit chilling.

There was a interesting citation, in a seeming throw away line.  Most of the address had to do with his ongoing reform of the offices or dicasteries of the Roman Curia.  He is merging and making in his reform.   In the middle of this section he said: “Tutto questo comporta necessariamente dei cambiamenti e delle mutate attenzioni anche nei suindicati Dicasteri, come pure nell’intera Curia[18]. … All of this necessarily entails changes and shifts in focus, both within the above-mentioned Dicasteries and within the Curia as a whole.[18]

That footnote interested me, so I had a look.  Here is footnote 18 in the Vatican translation.  He mentions the 50th anniversary of the imposition of the Novus Ordo:

[18] Saint Paul VI, some fifty years ago, when presenting the new Roman Missal to the faithful, recalled the correspondence between the law of prayer (lex orandi) and the law of faith (lex credendi), and described the Missal as “a demonstration of fidelity and vitality”.  He concluded by saying: “So let us not speak of a ‘new Mass’, but rather of ‘a new age in the life of the Church’” (General Audience, 19 November 1969).  Analogously, we might also say in this case: not a new Roman Curia, but rather a new age [una nuova epoca].

One might discuss the translation of Italian epoca.  How would it go into Latin?  Aevum? Saeculum?  Since there is a clear intent to invoke what Paul VI himself called the Novus Ordo Missae, it is an interesting question to ask.   Novus Ordo… Novum Saeculum?

It’s an amusing question.  I suppose now there will be some strong reactions, so I will turn on the moderation queue in case things get out of hand.

That “time is greater than space” citation in the Curial address drove me to drill.  I found a surprise.

This “time is greater than space” is one of the four principles Francis as deployed elsewhere, this one in Evangelii gaudium, Amoris laetitia, Lumen fidei, and Laudato si’.   Clearly it is central to his thought.  He gathered these four principles from an Argentinian caudillo named Juan Manual de Rosas (+1877) in his letter to another caudillo.

  • time is greater than space
  • unity prevails over conflict
  • reality is more important than ideas
  • and the whole is greater than the parts

These are the principles which govern Francis decision making and governance, so it is said. Pope Francis calls them principles for ‘building a people’. They run though his documents.

I think they boil down to praxis over theory.

As far as “time is greater than space” is concerned, read through a Jesuit lens, I turn to a commentary by Australian Jesuit on the topic at by Fr Frank Brennan SJ who is or was CEO of Catholic Social Services.   Given that these principles are from a caudillo, I suspect that “building a people” is mainly a political reality.  But I don’t know much about de Rosas.

Here’s the core.  Early in Ignatius’ post-conversion career, before ordination and before founding the Society in Paris, Ignatius was at San Esteban in Salamanca under the Dominicans. He got into trouble while preaching around a bit and he was imprisoned and tried.  Eventually they told him that he had to study more and that he couldn’t speak about certain theological topics. That is when he determined to go to Paris, where he roomed with St. Peter Faber and thereafter founded the Jesuits. Brennan wrote:

“At San Esteban in 1527, the Dominicans had the power, the structures, the space. They had the structures of buildings, libraries, a long theological tradition, and the strictures of religious life. Ignatius had none of that. He was a lone individual on a spiritual quest. Developing his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius was generating new processes and engaging others who were then able to develop to the point where they bore fruit in significant historical events throughout Europe and to the ends of earth then known to Europeans.”

That’s what Jesuit Fr. Brennan wrote.

In Francis’ 2019 Curial address in footnote 19 in the English translation we read:

[19] Evangelii Gaudium states the rule: “to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events.  Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity” (No. 223).


Ignatius was generating new processes and engaging others who were then able to develop to the point where they bore fruit in significant historical events

Francis footnote:

to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events.

Oddly similar, don’t you think?  The citation within footnote 19 is EG 223.  Check out 222-223 for more disorienting time-space travel.

There might be another way to put one important aspect of this “time/space” phrase: Cunctando regitur mundus… the world is ruled by delaying.  Your opponents may have the upper hand as far as power is concerned, but if you are patient, you will win in the end.

Sapienti pauca.

So, what’s up with the 2019 Curial address?  Some golden oldies and a couple of chilling portents for the coming year.

There are other issues in the speech one could write about but that’s enough. If you read it, watch for his “Dear brothers and sisters” line, which seems to mark off the sections and themes.

I wonder if we will have an explanation of the similarities in those citations.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. ProfKwasniewski says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z, for the close analysis, especially of the Jesuit sources of Francis’s language (or whoever his ghostwriter was).

    Readers may also be interested in the commentary I offered on this Christmas address, which dovetails nicely with Fr. Z’s:

  2. Semper Gumby says:

    And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people. For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.

    For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.

    …that’s what Christmas is all about, Francis.

  3. BeautifulSavior says:

    I taught Latin American History in college. Rosas was an awful dictator. I don’t understand how he could be adopting anything in relation with Rosas. It was one of the bloodiest regimes in Argentina.

  4. Perhaps I am naive, but I’m not sure that Pope Francis’s Christmas addresses to the Roman Curia mean all that much for the rest of the Church. One of the principal reasons, it seems, that he was elected was to “reform” the Curia. The Holy Father has no respect for priests he considers non-pastoral “bureaucrats,” which includes, by the way, academic priests and teachers as well. If you are not working full-time in a parish, soup-kitchen or mission station, he thinks you are not really serving the people of God.

    Furthermore, I think his Christmas addresses show that he massively dislikes the people, work, culture, and structure of the Curia. His addresses, which any business management expert would say are the worst possible way for a leader to treat his subordinates, seem little more than an opportunity for him to let the Curia know how little he thinks of them and their work. As policy statements about the Church as a whole, they don’t mean that much, at least from my, perhaps again naive, perspective. On the other hand, they are a very good window into Pope Francis’s character.

  5. Jack007 says:

    My father learned even as a child in elementary school in Argentina that Rosas was not someone to be proud of. Overall he was considered a stain on their history. When I was young he used to tell me of how Rosas would make belts from the skin of his enemies. Hardly an example to quote as a Christian. But hey, who am I to judge?

  6. ProfKwasniewski says:

    To PF’s comment: “Brothers and sisters, Christendom no longer exists!” (which is oddly reminiscent of Nietzsche’s “God is dead and we have killed him”), I recommend to readers two books that are full of genuine hope and determination to reestablish Christian civilization:

    Aidan Nichols’ “Christendom Awake: On Re-Energizing the Church in Culture

    and Roger Buck’s “Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed” (Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2016)

    For those who are looking for a shorter, easier read that covers much the same ground, check out Buck’s newly released: “The Gentle Traditionalist Returns

    Nichols and Buck are not afraid to say that Christendom, like the fire Mahler talks about guarding, is capable of rising quickly again to flames if only the breath of the Holy Spirit breathes on it.

  7. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Fr. Z,

    Very helpful and insightful analysis of the Pope’s talk.

    I would boil it down to “Chop chop! We have work to do! (processes, time in movement). No sitting around and occupying chairs!” (inertia from sitting around, occupying “space”).

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    But the Dominicans were right. St. Ignatius did need more theology chops. He also needed to meet guys in Paris and get them to join him. Salamanca was a great university, but he had no incentive to learn Latin as a native language while he was there, or to get to know people who weren’t from his part of Spain.

    Sigh. Sometimes people totally miss the point.

  9. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Lampedusa’s famous remark in The Leopard that things must change so that things may remain the same seems itself to be derived from a comment of Newman’s which in fact immediately precedes the passage the Holy Father quotes. The text reads:

    “old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. ”

    The “it” he refers to is any great idea, in particular Christianity as preached by the Church. His point is very simple: new arguments must be brought forward in defense of the Christian message, whenever new arguments against it are brought forward. He nowhere proposes to change the message or its underlying principles. It is the preaching, not the principle, which must adapt. To suggest Newman would support adapting principles to win an argument is intellectually dishonest.

  10. jaykay says:

    Thank you for those recommendations, Professor K. As it happens, I just got “Cor Jesu Sacratissimum” today, and am looking forward to reading it over Christmas. A very happy and blessèd Christmas to all here.

  11. Barnacle says:

    These ‘caudillos’ are completely meaningless. To say ‘Time is greater than space’ is meaningless twaddle, and smacks of grandiloquence. It’s the same as saying ‘Christmas pudding is greater than steak.’ Or to use a more common impossible comparison, ‘Apples are greater than pears.’ It’s meaningless. What features or characteristics of time or space does the ‘greater than’ refer to? Nobody knows. The speaker doesn’t know. The listener doesn’t know. It’s not defined. It’s just meaningless twaddle.
    Actually, it’s irritating meaningless twaddle. Irritating, because, like all irrational things, one’s brain struggles to find meaning, where none exists.

  12. Fr. Reader says:

    Merry Christmas.
    Leaving aside the other parts of the message, that I will not try to comment, please allow me focus on one phrase. “Christendom no longer exists!”. I have many times in my life used similar words. I have lived in various countries, places in which vast majority of the population is Catholic and places in which Catholics are less than 1%.
    Sometimes I see people acting as if Catholicism were the official religion of the place, the entire population were Catholic, etc., even if places with a very tiny Catholic population. To them, I often say similar words: “Christendom no longer exists. And so, your proposals might not be very useful.” Exaggerating a bit, why do people expect that everybody, including pagans and Muslims hang a “Merry Christmas” outside of their door?
    This does not mean that Christianity does not exist, but a concrete cultural, historical and political situation. I have seen various definitions of Christendom.
    I find this idea useful (Christendom no longer exists) when people, myself or others, are angry about laws or situations that go against the will of God. It might be that we are angry, with that anger that remove our peace and pushes us to lose hope or towards hatred, because we have the wrong expectations that we should be now in a perfect Christian society. I do not imagine the Christians of the first century getting angry and frustrated everyday when they open and read the “blogs” and “newspapers” of their time. We should not be either.
    We are free to choose Dominican Option, Benedict Option, or another kind of option, but I do not think that for now it is very useful to play Christendom, even if we are free to do it.

  13. Kathleen10 says:

    As always, thank you Fr. Z. He’s fairly incomprehensible. He reminds me of those folks who get a lofty degree in something but still can’t put together a coherent thought. There’s lots of words, but not much content.
    Thank you as well to the commenters here, I get a lot out of the comments as well.
    Here’s a tangential point related to nothing since Semper Gumby made me think of the wonderful Charlie Brown Christmas story, which has Linus quoting Luke to tell everyone what Christmas is all about.
    I read today that Linus, who could not be separated from his security blanket, got to the part where he says “Do not be afraid”, and he puts down his blanket at that point, and only picks it up again to wrap it around the little tree Charlie Brown had picked out, which was symbolic of him laying it at the foot of the cross. He may not have had that blanket again but isn’t that wonderful? He didn’t need his blanket any longer. Charles Schultz insisted that gospel section be in there, despite the producers wanting it out, saying it wouldn’t work with a cartoon, or at least, put in a laugh track, which Schultz also nixed. Now we know how right he was and American children get a little gospel lesson each year because of it. I just read all this and I wish I could remember where so they would get credit.
    Anyway it’s sweet, Merry Christmas Fr. Z and all!

  14. bourgja says:

    I have not studied this issue in depth, but I am concerned that “time is greater than space” means something like, “as the times change, our perception of the truth changes.” In other words, it conveys a dynamic versus a static view of truth. The danger here is when this is applied to the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church, as well as its disciplinary laws. This might be the hermeneutical key to understanding the current papacy.

  15. Benedict Joseph says:

    Interpretation of a statement peppered with the unintelligible and erroneous might be rendered even more accurately were we to know who actually wrote it. Producing word salad sufficiently incoherent to be regarded as depth thought requires cognitive engagement I’ve never attributed to the deliverer. That said, the statement is a serious portent of continuing deconstruction with a nefarious odor.

  16. TRW says:

    Pope St. Pius X:
    ” … for the Modernists, both as authors and propagandists, there is to be nothing stable, nothing immutable in the Church.”

    ” No, truly, there is no road which leads so directly and so quickly to Modernism as pride.”

    “Hence, Venerable Brethren, it will be your first duty to thwart such proud men, to employ them only in the lowest and obscurest offices; the higher they try to rise, the lower let them be placed, so that their lowly position may deprive them of the power of causing damage. Sound your young clerics, too, most carefully, by yourselves and by the directors of your seminaries, and when you find the spirit of pride among any of them reject them without compunction from the priesthood. Would to God that this had always been done with the proper vigilance and constancy.”

    Pascendi Dominici Gregis.
    1907 .

    The current pontificate and the ideology inspiring it’s errors and excesses was explicated and predicted so clearly in this encyclical. It was well known over one hundred years ago what the Modernists wanted and how they intended to go about implementing it.

    St. Pius X, pray for us.

  17. Semper Gumby says:

    “Christendom no longer exists!”

    In the sense that this is 2019 and not 12th-century Europe that is correct. In the sense of the Great Commission and restoring all things in Christ that is incorrect.

    “Today we are no longer the only ones who create culture, nor are we in the forefront of those most listened to.”

    One way to improve the situation is to increase public displays of reverence. This means: a proper Blessing, not mocking an altar boy with hands clasped in prayer, not criticizing soccer players for making the Sign of the Cross, not berating a young woman who eagerly brought two converts to the Vatican to meet the Pope, and not fraternizing with pagan idols.

    “The Church is two hundred years behind the times.”

    If that is the complaint, and the premise can be rejected as it strays into Modernism, then spouting banalities from a 19th-century caudillo is counter-productive.

    “Why is she not shaken up?”

    Stat Crux dum volvitur Orbis.

    “Are we afraid? Fear, instead of courage?”

    The premise that it takes “courage” to “shake her up” is absurd. This sentiment is inappropriate.

    “…paradigm…new age…initiate processes…anthropological conversion…”

    Metanoia. Sin to virtue.

  18. TonyO says:

    ‘Time is greater than space’ is meaningless twaddle,

    Barnacle, thank you for saying this. Excellent observation. Time and space are two aspects of reality. Just as it is meaningless to ask which side of a coin is larger than the other side, it is meaningless to assert either time or space is “greater”. Each have their own essential place in the created order. Both are essential for man to operate in this life in learning to love God: when a man acts he uses both time and space to act. In the next life, both time and space will be conquered so that neither limits us the way they do now.

    @Fr. Reader: it may be true that now in the 21st century, the socio-political reality that existed in Europe in the period from approximately 800 to 1750 in which the Church and (most) states actively cooperated with each other, as an historical phenomenon no longer exists. As an historical observation, this is valid. But the phrase is not used merely to make an historical observation, it is (often) used to urge a point of view and even a congratulatory exclamation for our having escaped such a past: that there SHOULD NOT BE such explicit and active cooperation between the Church and the states, and that we should never return to such a condition. This point of view is contrary to Catholicism, as Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII made abundantly clear.

    About anger: anger is a passion, and as such it is supposed to be ruled by reason and by virtue. Because there is a virtue regulating the passion, there are two vices opposed to anger used in moderation: one of excess (the man habitually angry even over small things), the other being a deficiency of anger (one who never gets angry, even over things that ought to anger him). It is symptomatic of those who have been trained up in liberalism to reject getting angry at things that ought to make us angry. A classic example is the situation of government bureaucrats inserting themselves into issues that are (properly speaking) outside their area of authority, to alter or even eradicate good customs, good laws, which are supportive of good morals and an upright life, on specious grounds (such as, for example, the claim that it is necessary to “separate” Church and state – by which they usually mean it is necessary to suppress the Church by the state). To the extent that wholesome, worthy, proper social and political orders in the states of Christendom were damaged and destroyed by those who spouted error and hatred of the Church, and thus uprooted wholesome laws and customs that helped support lives of virtue, the peoples who have “lost Christendom” ought to have been angry at the attacks on their spiritual wellbeing – and have fought back. It may now be too late to fully recover that Christendom in toto, but it is not too late to retain a few of the remains of it that (still) in small ways help support lives of wholesome virtues even if we cannot restore the old-style Christendom. And it is never too late to hope for, pray for, and even work toward a new Christendom that will be an improvement on the old one and will blast away the degeneracies of the present age.

  19. Cincture says:

    Prof Kwasniewski provides for an invitation to “Yes, Your Holiness: many believing Catholics would agree that we need a paradigm shift, to get us away from the worn-out strategy of the past five decades since the Council, which has failed mightily in keeping the Catholic world Catholic. We might try—I know it’s a daring concept—restoring our tradition!”

    Together we would do well to pray over such a statement, and for that which is continuity and anathema to that which is not.

  20. Semper Gumby says:

    “Here, there is a need to be wary of the temptation to rigidity. A rigidity born of the fear of change, which ends up erecting fences and obstacles on the terrain of the common good, turning it into a minefield of incomprehension and hatred. Let us always remember that behind every form of rigidity lies some kind of imbalance. Rigidity and imbalance feed one another in a vicious circle. And today this temptation to rigidity has become very real.”

    Beatings will continue until Joy increases.

  21. samwise says:

    “Time is greater than space” has a precedent in rabbinical Judaism in regard to the Sabbath. Rabbi Heschel, in his The Sabbath (1951), refers to man sacrificing time in order to gain space. Heschel equates space with things and time with Being. “Things” includes structures and institution, “brick and mortar”. It’s fair to say, in Argentina, Bergoglio was not only close to Rabbi Abraham Skorka(see their book length interview) but shares many sentiments with rabbinical Judaism. The inverse of sacrificing time etc, is sacrificing space to gain time. This is the principle Francis employs.

  22. samwise says:

    2nd law of thermodynamics: all things break down over time. Isn’t this another way of saying “time is greater than space”?

  23. samwise says:

    Disclaimer: I lived in a Jewish Orthodox neighborhood for years and love the people and customs yet, there are times when I think they claim immunity vs truth. Recall that Francis said he visited a Jewish shrink in Argentina too:
    The Pope also revealed that later, when the psychologist was near death, she contacted him: “Not to receive the sacraments, since she was Jewish, but for a spiritual dialogue.”

  24. Semper Gumby says:

    Perhaps at the next Christmas address to the Curia, the usual books gifted could instead be replaced by a biography of the Lion of Munster or the Grunt Padre, or Prof. Kwasniewski’s recommendations above, or the novel Father Elijah.

    Our Savior was born in Bethlehem to show us the Way.

    “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”

  25. samwise says:

    Didn’t Kwasniewski accuse Francis of heresy?…he’s not going to take any of his recommendations

  26. Semper Gumby says:

    samwise: “Perhaps.” One need not limit oneself to Francis or to the Curia Address of Christmas 2020. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  27. Hidden One says:

    Is it mandatory for curial officials to attend these annual addresses?

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