For nearly three years, during his daily sermons at Casa Santa Marta, Francis has been providing the congregation, and the world, with his idiosyncratic readings of events in the Gospel. These are usually delivered off-the-cuff because Francis tends to view prepared texts with contempt. As we have seen again and again, Francis evidently believes it is more “pastoral” simply to say whatever he thinks without to regard to the doctrinal implications or the potential for scandal. The results have often been, to put it mildly, stupefying.
Readers will recall such memorable examples of homespun exegesis as the claim that the sinless and immaculate Mary “perhaps” felt tricked by God when she saw Her son on the Cross (“Lies! I was cheated!”), that Christ merely pretended to be angry with this disciples (“Jesus does not become angry, but pretends to”), and that Matthew clung to his money when Christ called him (“No, not me! No, this money is mine!”), rather than immediately heeding Our Lord’s call as the Gospel records (Matt. 9:9-13).
There was also this astonishing prayer intention in a sermon on the life of Jesus: “Lord grant us Christian identity, which You had.” To say that Jesus had a “Christian identity,” rather than that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” as the first Pope recognized (cf. Matthew 16:16), is to suggest that he was not divine but merely a superlative man whose supreme Christian example we should emulate.
Indeed, in the same off-the-cuff sermon Francis opined: “The authority of Jesus—and the authority of the Christian—comes from this ability to understand the things of the Spirit, to speak the language of the Spirit. It is from this anointing of the Holy Spirit…” The implication is that any Christian can be anointed in the unique manner that Jesus was (cf. Acts 10:38), or that Jesus had no authority by virtue of His own divinity but only that of any “anointed” Christian.
However inadvertent it may be, what emerges from such improvisations is an implicit reduction of the God-Man to a Messiah who is merely an exalted creature whose sublime teaching and moral example lead men to God the Father. This is the Enlightenment-bred view of Christ held by the Unitarians and John Locke, who studiously evaded any affirmation of the existence of the triune God or that Christ is the divine second Person of the Holy Trinity.
Francis’s latest improvisation in this regard only heightens the difficulty. Sermonizing on the Finding in the Temple, Francis had this to say:
Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little “escapade”, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it.
Any well-catechized child knows that Jesus, far from begging forgiveness, rebuked his parents in a manner that constituted an early revelation of His divinity: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) Francis, however, blithely reduces this signal event to a childish escapade for which Jesus had to beg forgiveness. On this view, the very statement “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business?” would be the worst sort of insolence and lack of respect for parental authority.
Now, one does not beg forgiveness from another unless one has wrongly offended the other, whereas Jesus, being divine, was incapable of committing a wrong against anyone, much less his own parents. Worse, to say that Jesus had to beg forgiveness for his behavior is to suggest that he had sinned against Mary and Joseph and was thus obliged to ask their pardon.
The question presents itself: Is Francis confused about the divinity of Christ? Does he see Christ as the God-Man whose sacrifice of Himself to the Father, being of infinite value, atoned for all the sins ever committed or to be committed? Or does he hold some lower conception of the Messiah, perhaps without even realizing that he does? I leave it to the commenters to suggest a reasonable explanation of this sermon that is consistent with Christ’s divinity and an orthodox reading of the Gospel.