Pope Francis on Keys to Authentic Christian Humanism

Also shares his vision for Church reform in meeting with Italian faithful in Florence.

Pope Francis addressing the Fifth National Ecclesial Convention in Florence Cathedral today.
Pope Francis addressing the Fifth National Ecclesial Convention in Florence Cathedral today. (photo: Screenshot)

Pope Francis has said it is “useless” to seek solutions to ills and problems in the Church through “conservatism and fundamentalism” and warned against a faith that is “locked in subjectivism” in a lengthy address to the Italian church in Florence today.

Addressing participants at the Fifth National Ecclesial Convention meeting to discuss the theme "In Jesus Christ the New Humanism",  Francis said both Pelagianism, a heresy that denies original sin, and Gnosticism, which denies Christ’s divinity, are temptations that “defeat” a true Christian humanism.

Pelagianism, the Pope told faithful gathered in Florence's Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower, “prompts the Church not to be humble, selfless and blessed. And it does so with the appearance of being a good.” Such an approach, he added, “brings us confidence in structures, organizations, in perfect planning because it’s abstract.”

But often “it leads us also to take a controlling, hard, regulatory style,” he said. “The law gives to the Pelagian security to feel superior, to have a precise orientation. This is its strength, not the light of the breath of the Spirit.”

“In facing ills or the problems of the Church,” the Pope went on, “it is useless to look for solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of practices and outdated forms that even culturally aren’t able to be meaningful.” 

Christian doctrine, he added, “is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, concerns, interrogatives, but it is alive, unsettles, animates. Its face isn’t rigid, its body moves and develops, it has tender flesh: that of Jesus Christ.”

The Pope said the “reform of the Church – and the Church is semper reformanda (always reforming) – is alien to pelagianism.” Such reform, he said, is not completed by changing structures but means “being grafted and rooted in Christ, allowing oneself to be led by the Spirit. Then anything is possible with ingenuity and creativity.”

A second temptation to “defeat” Christian humanism is that of Gnosticism, the Pope continued. “It leads us to trust in logical and clear reasoning, but has lost sight of the tenderness of the flesh of one's brother.” 

The charm of Gnosticism, he said, quoting his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “is that of a faith locked into subjectivism, which affects only ‘a certain experience or set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings.’”

“The difference between Christian transcendence and any form of Gnostic spiritualism is in the mystery of the Incarnation,” the Pope added. “Not to put into practice, not to lead the Word into reality, means building on sand, remaining in theoretical ideas and degenerating into intimacies that bear no fruit, that make sterile its dynamism.”

By contrast, the Pope highlighted three feelings or sentiments necessary for Christian humanism that are “the mind of Christ Jesus”. He listed them as humility, disinterestedness —not being influenced by selfish motives, nor looking to one’s own interests but rather those of others — and blessedness, the joy of the Gospel.

The Pope said “closeness to people and prayer are the keys to living a Christian humanism” that is “popular, humble, generous, happy.” 

“If we lose this contact with the faithful people of God, we lose humanity and we’re not going anywhere,” Francis said.

“We can speak about humanism only by starting from the centrality of Jesus, discovering in Him the features of the authentic face of man," the Pope added. "And the contemplation of the face of the dead and risen Jesus that recomposes our humanity, fragmented as it may be by the hardships of life, or marked by sin. We must not domesticate the power of the face of Christ."

He said the face is "the image of His transcendence" but added that he did not wish here to "draw an abstract image of the 'new humanism', a certain idea of man, but to present with simplicity some features of Christian humanism, which is that of the sentiments, the mind of Jesus Christ. These are not abstract temporary sensations but rather represent the warm interior force that makes us able to live and to make decisions”.

The Pope held up the Beatitudes which “help us to live the Christian life in terms of holiness. They are short, simple, but practical. May the Lord give us the grace to understand that, his message!”

He exhorted the Italian faithful to “always take the spirit of great explorers,” not frightened by “borders and storms.” Be a Church that is “free and open to the challenges of the present, never on the defensive for fear of losing something. And meet people on the streets, taking the way of St. Paul: "To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some." (1 Cor 9:22).

He also stressed it is important to “always remember” that there is “no true humanism that does not provide love as the bond between human beings,” whether it is of an “interpersonal, intimate, social, political or intellectual nature.” 

“This is based on the need for dialogue and encounter, to build together with others a civil society.”

During his speech, the Pope joked with those present that he wasn't going to give them long lists of temptations to look out for, "not like the fifteen I gave the Roman Curia."