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The Principled Ambivalence of Pope Francis

Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is rightly considered the inaugural address of his pontificate. In it, he sets forth the major themes and directions that have characterized the writings and speeches of the ensuing four years.

I have often cited and commented upon the clear and welcome Christocentrism of the document. At the very beginning, the pope quotes movingly and with approval Benedict XVI’s contention that “being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

And toward the end, Francis insists: “The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him.” He then asks provocatively: “What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?”

However, between these robust affirmations Francis inserts in the document a section titled, “The Common Good and Peace in Society.” Here he articulates four “principles,” which are evidently dear to his heart. He draws upon them continually, in diverse contexts, as hermeneutical keys to understanding complex ecclesial and social situations. These four principles are: “Time is greater than space”; “unity prevails over conflict”; “realities are more important than ideas”; and “the whole is greater than the part.”

It seems to me that, in contrast to Europe and South America, there has been relatively little attention paid in the United States to the importance Francis assigns to these principles.

Read more at First Things –

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