Pope Francis and geography: between Ignatius of Antioch and Teilhard de Chardin?

stemma-papa-francesco

Pope Francis, one would say, is fond of the geographical/geometrical word “centrality.” He is the Pontifex Maximus, the centre of the Roman Curia, by definition the central government of the Church, thus he is by himself one of the centres of the world. But Pope Francis’ passion with centrality is far more than the simple fact of being the Supreme Pontiff. It is a philosophy, a visio mundi. We can try to trace Pope Francis’ emphasis on centrality, through his public speeches and writings, since his election on the 13th  of March 2013.

I need to say that it is not a review; it is just an observation on the importance of centres and centralities in the Supreme Pontiff’s speech. I shall demonstrate how, since the beginning of his Petrine Ministry, Pope Francis is reflecting, in the most profound theoretical and practical levels, on the concepts and notions of centre and centrality .

Centralities Urbi et Orbi

Pope Francis begins his first Urbi et Orbi speech, minutes after the Habemus Papam, by referring to the fact that the cardinals of the Church have gone to the ends of the Earth to find a new bishop of Rome. A periphery becomes at the centre: an Argentinian becomes the successor to Peter. It is not, by itself, a story of emergence of centrality?[1]

Centrality is more and more emerging in the words of the Pontiff; the Pope speaks about “centrality of man over money” during his visit to Cagliari, Sardinia. Men and women, and not money, should be at the centre, says Pope Francis.[2]

In his speech at the Chiesa del Gesù (the Jesuit mother church, on the 31st of August 2013) Pope Francis speaks about centrality of Christ and of the Church, as “one cannot follow one of them without the other”. The vision of the Pope is “elliptic”: an ellipse, our spiritual existence, is having two centres, one of them emerges from the other, Christ and the Church.[3]

Osservatore Romano Pope, site keilo jack

 

Evangelii Gaudium, a new emphasis on (de)centrality?

The peak of the papal discourse on centrality is the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), released some days ago: centres and centralities are mentioned 37 times. Pope Francis speaks about decentralization: the Church can be administratively decentralized, as, to continue with his visio mundi, Rome is likely but an administrative centre, while the Centre, Christ, is where the Church is. Thus Pope Francis criticises excessive centralization and finds it necessary to promote a sound decentralization. He also emphasises the centrality of kerygma of the “Good News” and of the Word, thus stressing the liaison between action and speech.[4]

The Church between Ignatius of Antioch and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin?

We can find an Ignatian spirit in the words of the Pope. Ignatius of Antioch was the first to use the word “Catholic Church” in historical sources, in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans:

Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”[5]

In another respect, the Pope can be inspired by his fellow Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) and his meditations on centrality:

“ …la Noosphère, et plus généralement le Monde, représentent un ensemble, non pas seulement fermé, mais centré[6]. Parce qu’il contient et engendre la Conscience, l’Espace-Temps est nécessairement de nature convergente. ” [7][8]

In his emphasis on decentralization, is Pope Francis not rejuvenating the Catholic Church so that she may again reflect Ignatius of Antioch’s definition? And is not he echoing Teilhard de Chardin, long time misunderstood but a prophet of Globalisation and of our age? Questions still to be thoroughly answered. Yet Pope Francis’ reflections on centres and centralities shall be translated into action and into concrete work to change our perspectives and our perception of what a centre and what a centrality should be.

In my view the Pope’s new Exhortation is in the heart of the matter. Even more, Pope Francis’ passion with Centrality is not only there, but it is also, indeed, towards the Heart of the Matter.

Photo credit: Vatican.va, Osservatore Romano.

 


[2] The video is available on http://fr.gloria.tv/?media=502932

[3] Omelia des Santo Padre Francesco in occazione della festa di Sant’Ignazio, 31 August 2013. cf. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/homilies/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130731_omelia-sant-ignazio_it.html

[4] Pope Francis, 2013, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Vatican Press. Available online on the url: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html

[5] The Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans, cf. the EWTN online database on Apostolic Fathers: https://www.ewtn.com/library/SOURCES/IGNSMR.TXT (Paragraph 8).

[6] In Italic in the original text.

[7] Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. 1956. Le Phénomène humain. Edition du Seuil, Paris, 256p, p.178. A digital edition of De Chardin’s book can be consulted on the site of the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi : http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/chardin_teilhard_de/phenomene_humain/tdc_pheno.pdf

[8] This is an approximative translation of the words of De Chardin : “The Noosphere, and more generally the World, are an ensemble, not only closed by also centred. Space-Time, because it contains and begets Conscience, is necessarily of a convergent nature.”


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