The text is available here as a PDF.

The Pope is making approaching to Evangelicals along with Pentecostals, and in a certain sense that means he is making approaches to the biggest ‘competitors’ on the global Christian market. While in the case of Brazil it is in effect mostly a matter of ungentlemanly competition – on both sides – the Archbishop of Argentina is demonstrating that it is also possible to do things in a different way. Evangelicals have thanked him for this and are completely unlike those in Brazil. Without ignoring the differences, it has most to do with the goal of bringing the gospel to everyone. Additionally, there are a many mutual social and political goals to pursue.

„Theologie beim Mittagessen“

“Lunchtime Theology” – Additional photos made available on July 17, 2014 at

Nevertheless, is this just a new strategy of embrace? Or is it also a content-based rapprochement vis-à-vis evangelical positions? Whoever reads the Pope’s latest Apostolic Exhortation will discover that in tone and content that are actually different sounds to be heard, even of much of this already had begun to be seen with Pope Benedict XVI and the actual difference is first seen when compared with Pope John Paul II. In our long, private discussion with the Pope, members of the Worldwide Evangelical Alliance were able to be personally convinced that the Pope not only just writes this way or speaks this way. Rather, he stands behind what he writes with all his heart and is clearly aware of the possible consequences. I repeatedly and specifically asked him about the latter.

The Pope is a nothing less than a ‘fan’ of the 1998 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Along with the agreement, what remained open at the end was what to do about the doctrinal condemnations from the Council of Trent approximately four and one-half centuries ago. Because the Joint Declaration is there to declare these as no longer applicable, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Josef Ratzinger had then immediately made it clear that Council decrees could not be retracted, but did this without placing the Joint Declaration itself into question.  Surely one would also have to discuss the question of how what the Pope says stands vis-à-vis that which the Catholic Church has codified in its body of doctrine over hundreds of years. However, Pope Francis is no one who primarily causes changes through doctrinal statements or new church law. Rather, he does so by making things happen. For that reason, in the following I would like to first of all read the Apostolic Exhortation as if there were no prior history and look at what the Pope himself thinks here at the present time.

A new Tone

Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) are the initial two words of the first Apostolic Exhortation Pope Francis has composed and is dated November 24, 2013. Even if such writings are traditionally quoted with these initial words, the actual title is On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World. The document ended the Year of Faith which had begun a year earlier with the Synod of Bishops in Rome on re-evangelization.  In the parting document, the Pope – as usual – was called upon in Proposition 1 to take up the results of the Synod and to dedicate a document to it. Since Pope Benedict has in the meantime resigned, the task fell upon Pope Francis (EG 16; comp. 14).

Evangelii Gaudium = EG; the paragraph count follows that of the original; from this point forward, only the paragraph number will be provided in parentheses. For quotes made from the EG, I have left the respective source citations out of the footnotes.

The German translation of the EG avoids the usual terms which are common to Evangelicals and, for instance, awkwardly translates ‘evangelizer’ instead of using ‘evangelist.’ The Spanish original version, like the Latin and Italian translations, have no reason for such a differentiation and use the classical terms common in the languages of Catholics and Evangelicals.

Overall it is to be pointed out that the English translation has been rather poorly done and that the German version also does not always do a truly good job of rendering the Spanish original. In the Spanish original, a number of the statements discussed herein appear to be clearer and, more specifically, more radical.

It is astonishing that Pope Francis actually does not directly handle the topic of the Synod, which is how to win back places which were Christian and baptized Catholics who have no connection with the faith. Rather, he writes plainly and simply about the evangelization of all people. He does so in complete accord with the comments of the World Evangelical Alliance at this Synod. We had developed these comments within the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, and Geoff Tunnicliffe, the General Secretary, presented them. I had myself seen that at the opening mass of the Synod the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires considered the topic to be too narrow and actually wanted to speak about what elsewhere is called world missions.

The completely different style of writing compared with his predecessor is striking. There are no dogmatic determinations, no instructions, no regulations, or final statements to be found. Instead, the Pope suggests and calls for solutions to be sought. He also calls upon all Christians and the great majority of lay people to evangelize in ever new formulations and contexts. In a section entitled “The scope and limits of the Exhortation,” the Pope even discusses that it is not appropriate for the Pope to give answers instead of the local bishops, who would understand the local situations better. Instead, he is “conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization’” (16).

As far as papal writings are concerned, Pope Francis strikes a completely new tone. He wants ‘to suggest,’ to ‘prompt,’ and to decentralize. Nowhere does he prescribe anything by calling upon the official position he holds. Indeed, the Pope actually says that the “collegial spirit” under his two predecessors “made little progress“ (32), and that he wants to change that. He says he wants to learn from the collegiality of the bishops in the Orthodox churches (246). It must be said that the collegiality of the bishops at the Second Vatican Council was codified and stipulated in 1983 in church law, however, which Pope John Paul II promulgated. Indeed, it has frequently been mentioned but de facto further diminished by the Pope’s not only receiving a veto right against all decisions made by the bishops or by a council but where a ballot without the positive vote of the Pope is void. The authority of the local bishops and the national bishops conferences were also weakened vis-à-vis the Vatican. Now, however, the Pope has said the following:

“Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization’” (16).

This desired decentralization becomes clear by a circumstance that to my knowledge no one besides Bernd Hagenkord, SJ has made a topic so far. Apostolic Exhortations are usually peppered with quotes, from the Bible, from councils, popes, teaching documents, etc. Above all, Francis quotes copiously from the Bible, as Pope Benedict did in his writings. Compared to his predecessors, Francis sharply reduced the quotes from popes, and half of what he did use came from Pope Benedict XVI. Instead, he quoted a lot from texts and reports coming out of regional bishops’ conferences!

At the same time, what is interesting is the justification for decentralization. It is justified by, among other things, saying that centralization hinders evangelization: “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach” (32).  Evangelization should – and this I heard directly from the mouth of the Pope – determine the structure more than the question of maintaining the status quo or the influence of the Catholic Church. According to the Pope, the reason is that without evangelization, the church would be at its point of termination anyway.

Overall, this has to do with nothing less than a “new orientation of the papacy.” In context this reads as follows:

“Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding ‘a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation’. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, ‘episcopal conferences are in a position to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit’. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach“ (32).

This is all underscored by the most unbelievable statement in the document, which does not even mention the papal office by name:

“In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization. The people of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo. This means that it does not err in faith, even though it may not find words to explain that faith. The Spirit guides it in truth and leads it to salvation” (119).

Brilliant! Because at this point it is truly radical. The Pope, who according to Catholic doctrine is infallible, says that the entire people of God, indeed every Christian, is “infallible” when that individual proclaims the gospel in faith. The Pope is reinterpreting the infallibility of the church anew – for the sake of evangelization. If I had written this, everyone would have supposed there was a dig at catholic doctrine in it. I can see the Pope before me chuckling as he wrote that. And yet, he is correct. There is nothing more infallible than the gospel of Jesus Christ, if we believe it correctly and bear witness about it to others.

Meeting Jesus

Pope Francis, just like the Synod of Bishops in 2012 and Pope Benedict XVI – and as every Evangelical as well – sees the intrinsic nature of Christian faith to be a personal meeting and relationship with Jesus.

“I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’” (7, with a quote from the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est).

This leads to describing the renewal of the church in a way that it is also done in the evangelical tradition:

“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (3).

However, what is important is the observation that such announcements are no longer immediately followed by qualifying statements having to do with the importance of the church, of priests, or of the sacraments. Rather, the statements stand on their own.

This completely cuts through all the way to the topic of evangelization, with “Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person,” who “identifies especially with the little ones” (cf. Mt 25:40) (209). The goal of evangelization is precisely a “personal encounter with the saving love of Jesus” (264).

This also has an ecumenical dimension, as the Pope himself impressionably said to me: He calls baptized Catholics to an encounter with Jesus; people in other churches who have truly met Jesus already have that. It is decisive, and they are “journeying alongside one another” (244). The common goal of all Christians is first and foremost that people meet Jesus, not first of all that they join their church. For a long time now, I have advocated an international conversation between all churches on the topic of proselytism, probably because this is currently precisely one of the hottest issues in ecumenical relations.Within the framework of the Global Christian Forum, the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, the World Evangelical Alliance, the Pentecostal World Fellowship, and others are now beginning the planning for such a process of discussion. The Pope is facilitating this discussion with unbelievably arduous assistance.

Meeting God through the Study of the Bible

Options for the poor and criticism of the idolatry of prosperity is consciously taken by the Pope from the Bible, is substantiated in a Christian spirit of things, and is not presented as political correctness. For that reason, it can be very well understood by Evangelicals and could just as easily have been formulated by the Evangelical Alliance’s Micah Initiative. In general, the entire Apostolic Exhortation is essentially a longer Bible study up to the last section on Maria (see below).

For the Pope, the Bible is the fountain of truth:

“The Church is herself a missionary disciple; she needs to grow in her interpretation of the revealed word and in her understanding of truth” (40).

For that reason, the Pope vehemently makes the case for preaching based on Bible texts, which in Catholic linguistic usage (and otherwise often) is called a ‘homily’: “The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth” (135).

At the same time, he does not see the actual strength of the homily in proclamation to the church but rather in the preparer’s having to grapple intensively with the Bible. The Pope describes in detail how a homily is prepared. The preacher “ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God. Knowledge of its linguistic or exegetical aspects, though certainly necessary, is not enough. He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him” (149).

“The first step, after calling upon the Holy Spirit in prayer, is to give our entire attention to the biblical text, which needs to be the basis of our preaching. Whenever we stop and attempt to understand the message of a particular text, we are practising ‘reverence for the truth.’ This is the humility of heart which recognizes that the word is always beyond us, that ‘we are neither its masters or owners, but its guardians, heralds and servants.’ This attitude of humble and awe-filled veneration of the word is expressed by taking the time to study it with the greatest care and a holy fear lest we distort it” (146).

No Evangelical could formulate it better. When many servants in the church listen to the Pope, the effects are hard to think out. How does the Pope say it?

“God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps” (22).

Evangelization and the Bible

It is no longer a surprise that the Bible plays an unsurpassable role for evangelization and the recovery of enthusiasm for evangelization.

“All evangelization is based on that word, listened to, meditated upon, lived, celebrated and witnessed to. The sacred Scriptures are the very source of evangelization. Consequently, we need to be constantly trained in hearing the word. The Church does not evangelize unless she constantly lets herself be evangelized. It is indispensable that the word of God ‘be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity.’ God’s word, listened to and celebrated, above all in the Eucharist, nourishes and inwardly strengthens Christians, enabling them to offer an authentic witness to the Gospel in daily life” (174).

The consequence is that the Pope calls for the same thing that the World Evangelical Alliance calls for (using the catchword ‘Biblical engagement’): The awakening to evangelization has to be an awakening for all of Christianity to conduct personal Bible study, to lead the way as well as to constantly provide support!

“The study of the sacred Scriptures must be a door opened to every believer. It is essential that the revealed word radically enrich our catechesis and all our efforts to pass on the faith. Evangelization demands familiarity with God’s word, which calls for dioceses, parishes and Catholic associations to provide for a serious, ongoing study of the Bible, while encouraging its prayerful individual and communal reading. We do not blindly seek God, or wait for him to speak to us first, for ‘God has already spoken, and there is nothing further that we need to know, which has not been revealed to us.’ Let us receive the sublime treasure of the revealed word” (175).

The fact that the Pope has had a miniature edition of the four Gospels printed and is having it distributed at Angelus prayers and among the visitors when there are public audiences constitutes only one of many examples showing that the Pope means everything in practical terms.

‘The Primacy of Grace’

Evangelicals will ask whether the Pope means the same thing as Protestants when it comes to the gospel and thereby also when it comes to evangelizing. Naturally, the Apostolic Exhortation does not address many aspects of the question. Also, Pope Francis is not primarily a theologian or interested in reviewing older Catholic texts or changing ecclesiastical law. But let us listen experimentally as if the Pope were not the Pope and not liable for the 500 years of Catholic history which has transpired since the Reformation. Rather, let us listen as if he simply had his own opinion to express. Then one would realize that he sometimes more strongly emphasizes God’s action as the precondition for evangelization and conversion than Evangelicals who are more Arminian in their orientation.

“In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit“ (12).

“Through her evangelizing activity, she cooperates as an instrument of that divine grace which works unceasingly and inscrutably. Benedict XVI put it nicely at the beginning of the Synod’s reflections: ‘It is important always to know that the first word, the true initiative, the true activity comes from God and only by inserting ourselves into the divine initiative, only begging for this divine initiative, shall we too be able to become – with him and in him – evangelizers.’ This principle of the primacy of grace must be a beacon which constantly illuminates our reflections on evangelization” (112).

“Evangelization is the task of the Church. The Church, as the agent of evangelization, is more than an organic and hierarchical institution; she is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God. She is certainly a mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet she exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary. I would like to dwell briefly on this way of understanding the Church, whose ultimate foundation is in the free and gracious initiative of God” (111).

“The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 John 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast” (24).

Here I would like to mention the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ of 1998, which the Pope likes so much. The two central paragraphs state:

(15) In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.
(16) All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God’s gift through the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that renewal of life which God will bring to completion in eternal life.


All of the Church for all People

It is delightful that the Pope consistently places the gospel in central focus. He goes beyond the initiating synods on the topic (16) by emphasizing much more intensely than  heretofore that “lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him” (emphasis in the Vatican’s English translation) (15). Prayer within Christianity should pay special attention to this (281-282).

Profound changes lie ahead for the Catholic Church wherever they take this seriously. For non-Catholics it will be interesting whether the enormous number of Catholic Christian will listen to this wakeup call or not.

Please note that the Catholic Church is not a sleek and maneuverable yacht which the Pope turns at particular times. Rather, it is a giant tanker which can only keep its course or change its course ponderously and with mighty effort. And yet, if the captain demands a course correction, one has to sit up and take notice. This is the case even if realistically one has to accept that no one precisely knows what the specific consequences are going to be. When the tanker corrected its course in the Second Vatican Council and encouraged Bible reading among lay people, introduced mass in people’s native languages, advocated religious freedom and human rights, the bow wave changed worldwide. One should not forget that the changes came surprisingly and were implemented in an enormously radical nature. Furthermore, in the case of mass, for instance, the changes meant that virtually on one day the Catholic Church and hundreds of millions of people had worship service in Latin and on the next day celebrated worship in their native languages.

The Synod in October 2013 had almost exclusively to do with re-evangelization, that is to say, the recovery of baptized Christians. With this, Pope Francis takes up a central concern of Pope Benedict XVI, expands it enormously, and does so in a manner much more appropriate for our time. In the case of nominal Christians, it is all too often not a matter of recovery but rather of producing Christians out of “those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him” (emphasis in the Vatican’s English translation) (15).

The sections which are central are, above all, “The Church’s Missionary Transformation” (20-40 = Chapter I) and “The entire people of God proclaims the Gospel” (111-134 = Chapter III.1.).

Under the rubric of evangelization, the Pope above all understands that every Christian, and thus, above all, the large number of “lay people” (111-121) are to give testimony to their lived relationship with Jesus, for evangelization is lived in relationship. If it is startingly evangelically formulated, this applies all the more for the goal of evangelization, which can be described as the “personal encounter with the saving love of Jesus” (264). The Pope explicitly addresses the personal gifts of the Spirit (130, 117), signals openness vis-à-vis the Pentecostal movement (259), and recommends to all Christians that they habitually and directly study the Word of God (175), and these are all things which no longer come as a surprise.

There is also nothing that follows with respect to qualifications or restrictions expressed by ecclesiastical authorities!

There was a topic which existed yet was tacit at the Synod of Bishops. Also, with respect to questions of hierarchy and sacraments, it repeatedly slipped into the background. That issue was, namely, that almost without exception lay people are the ones who win other people to faith in Christ. This has been made into the starting point and center, above all in two longer sections: “The entire people proclaims the Gospel“ (111-144) and “We are all missionary disciples” (119-126). For it is to be noted: “Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the people of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church” (102).

What arises from this is a great degree of openness for repeatedly new ways of communicating the gospel.

“Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always ‘new’” (11).

Additionally, there is something that is recognized, welcomed, indeed demanded, and it is also evangelical DNA. That is the fact that in his or her everyday life, everyone is constantly, precisely a witness to the gospel either by speaking or by not speaking. “Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey” (127).

That goes so far as to say that every Christian is identified with mission!

“My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an ‘extra’ or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing” (273).

One can only say amen to this!

The office of priesthood will largely continue to be sacramentally determined, but there is no control to be derived from this:

“Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people” (104). Or, in the typically drastic language of the Pope: “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy . . .” (38).

Evangelization and the Holy Spirit

This unfolds into a strong emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in every Christian and an emphasis on diversity, indeed on creativity with regard to the proclamation of the gospel, as five quotes will document:

“Keeping our missionary fervour alive calls for firm trust in the Holy Spirit, for it is he who ‘helps us in our weakness’” (Romans 8:26) (280).

“What I would like to propose is something much more in the line of an evangelical discernment. It is the approach of a missionary disciple, an approach ‘nourished by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit’” (50).

“Evangelization joyfully acknowledges these varied treasures which the Holy Spirit pours out upon the Church. We would not do justice to the logic of the incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous. While it is true that some cultures have been closely associated with the preaching of the Gospel and the development of Christian thought, the revealed message is not identified with any of them; its content is transcultural. Hence in the evangelization of new cultures, or cultures which have not received the Christian message, it is not essential to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be, together with the Gospel. The message that we proclaim always has a certain cultural dress, but we in the Church can sometimes fall into a needless hallowing of our own culture, and thus show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal” (117).

“The Holy Spirit also enriches the entire evangelizing Church with different charisms. These gifts are meant to renew and build up the Church. They are not an inheritance, safely secured and entrusted to a small group for safekeeping; rather they are gifts of the Spirit integrated into the body of the Church, drawn to the centre which is Christ and then channelled into an evangelizing impulse“ (130).

At this point, one does well to repeat the Pope’s quote used at the beginning and relating to his self-understanding:

“In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization. The people of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo. This means that it does not err in faith, even though it may not find words to explain that faith. The Spirit guides it in truth and leads it to salvation” (119).

Evangelization and social Involvement

In the final event, evangelization is also the foundation for everything considered social and political involvement, as the following example shows very well:

“The Church proclaims ‘the Gospel of peace’ (Ephesians 6:15) and she wishes to cooperate with all national and international authorities in safeguarding this immense universal good. By preaching Jesus Christ, who is himself peace (cf. Ephesians 2:14), the new evangelization calls on every baptized person to be a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life” (239).

The following is an interesting point: Just as Evangelicals – for instance, in the Lausanne Declaration – Pope Francis equally emphasizes the proclamation of the gospel and social involvement and yet he justifies the latter based on the former and never leaves a doubt that silent action and witness may never be allowed to push aside the verbal proclamation of the gospel. The new missions document prepared by the 2013 Ecumenical Council mentions both, but it does not place them in such balance to each other. Rather, it gives social action the clear ascendance, even if it does so in a more restrained manner than in the past.

“The Fetish of Gold”

Statements by the Pope on the world economy (53-58) have been – in my opinion wrongly – misunderstood to be purely a criticism of capitalism. This is, for instance, the case with Christoph Schäfer in his article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (a major German daily newspaper), which in principle is worth reading. In that article Schäfer writes:

“Beyond all of the interpretive questions, what is also to be examined is whether the theses of the Pope can at all be empirically corroborated. For instance, his assertion that while the earnings of a minority are increasing exponentially, the majority are increasingly distanced from the affluence of these fortunate few falls short of the mark. Contrary to what the Pope suggests, according to a recent study, the number of very poor people has dropped over the past three decades by more than 700 million to 1.2 billion. ‘We are witnesses to a historic moment in which people are freeing themselves from poverty,’ said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim when the study was presented in October. The millennial goal of halving the number of people who have to live on less than $1.25 per day by 2015 has been achieved five years early. ‘Our expectations have been exceeded,’ according to Kim.” The Pope, however, did not actually say that the number of poor is increasing. Rather, he writes: “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.” (56).

For that reason, Frank A. Meyer has correctly argued in Cicero (Frank A. Meyer. “Papst Franziskus und der Marktgott” = “Pope Francis and the Market as God”Cicero 1/2014; Web edition accessed April 17, 2014: ):

“‘Such an economy kills,’” the Pope has declared. Unlike his predecessors, he can demanded that the economy be changed. An anti-capitalist? No. He is the reformer of capitalism of the moment.”

The Pope has written: ”The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Exodus 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose” (55). It is about this form of capitalism and not about capitalism in general that the Pope says: “Such an economy kills” (53).

Again looking at Meyer: “The Bishop of Rome leaves no doubt that his bull of excommunication is directed against a form of idolatry: ‘tyranny of an idolized market’ is what he calls the prevailing capitalistic circumstances … Francis knows what he is talking about. He even quotes the market fundamentalist trickle down theory, according to which there is always something which runs down off the table of the rich for the benefit of those who are down at the bottom: This view, which has never been confirmed by facts, expresses an undifferentiated, naïve trust in the goodness of those who hold economic power in the their hands, just like the trust in the idolized mechanisms of the prevailing economic system,” as far as Meyer is concerned. The Pope says quite rightly: “We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market“ (204). “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” (56).

As a co-author of a book carrying the title Korruption (“Corruption”)I am pleased that the Pope underlines the close connection the component of corruption has in such an economic state of affairs: “To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule” (56). In a conversation with the Pope concerning corruption, I was able to observe how he is personally affected by this topic, at the very most because his own church is not excluded from this. There are quite a number of measures and instructions regarding internal processes and structures in the Curia which aim at preventing this primeval sin (as is well known, the meaning of the Latin, theological term is ‘corruptio’).

Excursus: Quotes on the Economy

I would like to quote a couple of highlights from sections 53-57:

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion” (53).

“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers.’” (53).

“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us” (54).

“No to the new idolatry of money”

The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Exodus 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption” (55).

“No to a financial system which rules rather than serves”

“Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement“ (57).

“A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule!” (58).

“The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings” (58).


For the Pope, “ecumenism means that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another” (244). He wrote a long paragraph on this topic, which sentence for sentence certainly does not say what other popes have also not already said. And yet, what is completely new about it is how he does not simultaneously want to be ensnared by numerous limitations:

“Given the seriousness of the counter-witness of division among Christians, particularly in Asia and Africa, the search for paths to unity becomes all the more urgent. Missionaries on those continents often mention the criticisms, complaints and ridicule to which the scandal of divided Christians gives rise. If we concentrate on the convictions we share, and if we keep in mind the principle of the hierarchy of truths, we will be able to progress decidedly towards common expressions of proclamation, service and witness. The immense numbers of people who have not received the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot leave us indifferent. Consequently, commitment to a unity which helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization. Signs of division between Christians in countries ravaged by violence add further causes of conflict on the part of those who should instead be a leaven of peace. How many important things unite us! If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us. To give but one example, in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality. Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness” (246).

At this point there is not a call to others to return to the lap of the church, whereby I would like to refer to what was said above on proselytism. It is not a matter of superiority but rather about “reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us … Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness” (246).

The Pope says, “No to warring among ourselves” (98-101), for there are “wars [which] take place within the people of God“ (98). By this he does not only mean between churches, but rather within his Church. The same applies to his recapitulatory call which he directs internally at his own Church as well as at all Christians:  “I especially ask Christians in communities throughout the world to offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion” (99).

Inter-religious Dialogue

Inter-religious dialogue is called for and desired by the Pope, but it is done so without the desire to even temporarily suspend proclamation of the gospel. It is precisely the view of dialogue with adherents and leaders of other religions as the World Evangelical Alliance propagates and intensively practices it.

“In this dialogue, ever friendly and sincere, attention must always be paid to the essential bond between dialogue and proclamation, which leads the Church to maintain and intensify her relationship with non-Christians. A facile syncretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters. True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being ‘open to understanding those of the other party’ and ‘knowing that dialogue can enrich each side.’ What is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says ‘yes’ to everything in order to avoid problems, for this would be a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others. Evangelization and interreligious dialogue, far from being opposed, mutually support and nourish one another” (251).

Human Rights – stated succinctly

The Pope speaks out against the persecution of Christians (61, 86) and for “religious freedom“ (255, comp. 61). He pleads to Islamic countries:

“I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (253).

It is gratifying to see that sociologically he sees “fundamentalism” (253, see also 63 and 250) as the justification of force or use of force in the name of truth, just as I have promoted it in my book Fundamentalism.

For him, corruption is a burden (56, see above) as is “human trafficking“ (75, 211), regarding which he has written the following:

“I  have always been distressed at the lot of those who are victims of various kinds of human trafficking. How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: ‘Where is your brother?’ (Genesis 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labour? Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone! This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity” (211).

Human trafficking often overlaps with the oppression of women.

“Doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights. Even so, we constantly witness among them impressive examples of daily heroism in defending and protecting their vulnerable families” (212).

The Pope wants to confront this issue, among others, by making more room for women in the Church:

“I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because ‘the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace’ and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures” (103).


In Pope Benedict’s time, it was often the case that his Apostolic Exhortation and Encyclicals appeared to be very Biblically centered and that there was hardly an utterance made which could not be underscored by an Evangelical. However, there was always a final chapter with a call to Mary which, based on its style, shows that it did not belong to the original text. It was not until this final chapter that the document became a purely Catholic document. Indeed, prior to this section, there is brief mention made in Evangelii Gaudium of the “relationship” to Mary and the saints. However, it is only the appended final chapter which is not comprehensible for Orthodox and Protestant Christians: “Mary, mother of evangelization” (284-288) with its long prayer to Mary (288).

The Pope writes:

“With the Holy Spirit, Mary is always present in the midst of the people. She joined the disciples in praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14) and thus made possible the missionary outburst which took place at Pentecost. She is the Mother of the Church which evangelizes, and without her we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization” (284). “As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love. Through her many titles, often linked to her shrines, Mary shares the history of each people which has received the Gospel and she becomes a part of their historic identity” (286). “There is a Marian “style” in the Church’s work of evangelization“ (288).

After all, this final section shows that next to the new commonalities, there continue to coexist the old theological differences which have to worked through. For this reason, in addition to the enthusiasm about long desired changes, there is a necessity for work-intensive, mutual wrestling with respect to Christian truth.

Appendix: The Pope on the evangelizing Church before the Conclave

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio spoke before the Conclave upon the occasion of the College of Cardinals in Rome and called upon the Church to make a radical change in direction and go in the direction of evangelization. The Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega asked him whether he could give him the talk in written form. After that, Bergoglio handwrote key words in his native language of Spanish and gave the manuscript to Ortega. At its core, it contains the Evangelii Gaudium. The Cardinals thus knew whom and what they were voting for!

Here is a sketch by the not yet Pope:

“Reference has been made to evangelization. This is the Church’s reason for being. ‘The sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing’ (Paul VI). It is Jesus Christ himself who, from within, impels us.

Jesus Christ himself pushes us inwardly towards this.

1) Evangelizing implies apostolic zeal. Evangelizing presupposes in the Church the “parresia” of coming out from itself. The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographical, but also existential: those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice, those of ignorance and of the absence of faith, those of thought, those of every form of misery.

2) When the Church does not come out from itself to evangelize it becomes self-referential and gets sick (one thinks of the woman hunched over upon herself in the Gospel). The evils that, in the passing of time, afflict the ecclesiastical institutions have a root in self-referentiality, in a sort of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is standing at the threshold and calling. Evidently the text refers to the fact that he stands outside the door and knocks to enter. . . But at times I think that Jesus may be knocking from the inside, that we may let him out. The self-referential Church presumes to keep Jesus Christ within itself and not let him out.

3) The Church, when it is self-referential, without realizing it thinks that it has its own light; it stops being the ‘mysterium lunae’ and gives rise to that evil which is so grave, that of spiritual worldliness (according to De Lubac, the worst evil into which the Church can fall): that of living to give glory to one another. To simplify, there are two images of the Church: the evangelizing Church that goes out from itself; that of the “Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidenter proclamans” [the Church that devoutly listens to and faithfully proclaims the Word of God – editor’s note], or the worldly Church that lives in itself, of itself, for itself. This should illuminate the possible changes and reforms to be realized for the salvation of souls.

4) Thinking of the next Pope: a man who, through the contemplation of Jesus Christ and the adoration of Jesus Christ, may help the Church to go out from itself toward the existential peripheries, that may help it to be the fecund mother who lives ‘by the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.’”

(English translation of the notes: Matthew Sherry (E-Mail), accessed on August 18, 2014)



  1. […] Schirrmachers ausführliche Bewertung des Apostolischen Schreibens Evangelii Gaudium vom 29. Juli (Evangelii Gaudium: Der Papst zur Evangelisation –„Eine Neuausrichtung des Papsttums“). Dazu meine […]

  2. Motetus says:

    Holger Lahaynes o.a. Reblog missfällt mir wegen seiner Unversöhnlichkeit. Klar, dass wir noch einen riesigen Berg vor uns haben, wenn wir ans Eingemachte gelangen, nämlich das Kirchen- und Amtsverständnis. Aber darum geht es hier doch gar nicht. Es geht um die Grundidentität von Kirche (von allen Kirchen!) schlechthin, und die besteht in der Evangelisation (Evangelii nuntiandi von 1975 Nr,. 14). Dass hier “die Reformation” in der röm,.kath. Konfession angekommen ist, sollte evangelikale Geschwister einfach erst einmal freuen und nicht mit immer neuem “Ja-Aber” schlechtreden.

    Worauf Lahayne zu Recht hinweist ist: Wie wird der neue Treibstoff des Schiffes (Hl. Geist) von der Mannschaft angenommen? Wie wirkt sich Evangelii Gaudium in der Praxis der Gemeinden letztlich aus? Wenn in Deutschland das Gros der Hauptamtlichen dieses Pastoralprogramm noch nicht einmal gelesen haben und kennen, ja etliche sich sogar dezidiert dagegen wehren, dann macht sich der Ungeist der Spaltung sogar in den Strukturen breit, die vorgeben “katholisch” zu sein – man kann nur hoffen, dass Pfarrgemeideräte und Kirchenvorstände EG selbst in die Hand nehmen, lesen und umsetzen! Nicht auf die pastoralen Profis und Priester zu warten schlägt PP. Franziskus ja selbst vor. Dann wird sich auch der Umgang mit evangelischen Minderheiten ändern und ein versöhnlicher, geschwisterlicher (Heiliger!) Geist zwischen uns wirken können. Die Wahrheit wird uns frei machen! Bei Lahayne habe ich immer noch den Eindruck, dass “die” Wahrheit nur auf einer Seite (seiner) zu finden sein soll. Schade.

    Im Übrigen kann kein Papst die Kirche(n) erneuern, sondern nur der Geist Gottes, und der wirkt vor allem in “uns normalen Christen” an der vielbeschworenen Basis. Mission? Possible! Packen wir’s an, gemeinsam.

  3. […] mitarbeiten könne. Auf den freikirchlichen Duktus in Evangelii Gaudium angesprochen, der selbst [evangelikalen Rezensenten] in den Kernaussagen (bes. Nrn. 3 und 164) aufgefallen ist, entgegnet mir der Bischof „ja, von den […]

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