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.”
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”.
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. … All of this necessarily entails changes and shifts in focus, both within the above-mentioned Dicasteries and within the Curia as a whole.”
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:
 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 Jesuit.org.au 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:
 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
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.
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.