The Pope’s letter to atheists

Pope Francis has taken the unusual step of replying to two letters in La Repubblica, in which the founder of the paper, Eugenio Scalfari, wondered out-loud what he’d ask the new Pope if he had the chance. In particular, he wondered, what is the attitude of God to atheists like him, who try to follow a good life although they can’t believe in God.

In his reply, the Pope calls for more of an open and friendly dialogue between the Church and the Enlightenment. He also had this to say, in answer to the question of whether truth is not always culturally-constructed and relative (ie children born into a Hindu culture are far more likely to remain Hindu, so it seems a bit harsh to send them to Hell for eternity for the accident of their birth). It’s somewhat mangled by Google Translate but you can get the gist:

each of us finds the truth and expresses it from their own history and culture , from the situation in which they live , etc. . This does not mean that truth is subjective and variable , far from it. But it does mean that it is given to us always and only as a journey and life. Did not Jesus himself say : ” I am the way , the truth and the life” ? In other words , the truth being ultimately one with love , it requires humility and openness to be sought , welcomed and expressed.

His olive-branch to atheists comes after his new pontiff said that celibacy of priests was not a dogma and should be up for discussion. Here is the translated text of the letter, which sounds a bit like Yoda when you put it through Google Translate and I’m sure some of the phrases aren’t quite right (‘this precious box’, ‘meat of Christ’, ‘God is with an upper case R’) but I think, even through the darkness of Google Translate, we can perceive what Francesco is saying: God is love, never underestimate His reckless love for us.

Dear Dr. Scalfari,

It is with heartfelt appreciation that , even if only in outline , I would try to answer your letters, from the pages of the Republic.

Thank you, first of all, for the attention with which you read the encyclical Lumen fidei . Indeed, the intention of my beloved Predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who conceived and largely wrote it , and from which , with gratitude , I inherited it, is directed not only to confirm the faith in Jesus Christ in those who already recognize Him, but also to arouse a sincere and rigorous dialogue with those who , like you,  define themselves as ” a non-believer for many years concerned and fascinated by the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth .”

I therefore feel it is very positive , not only for us individually but also for the society in which we live, to pause to talk about something so important as faith , which refers to preaching and the figure of Jesus. I think there are in particular, two factors that make today a must and this precious box.

It , moreover, is, as is well known, one of the main goals of the Second Vatican Council, called by Pope John XXIII, and the ministry of the Popes who , each with its sensitivity and its contribution , since then until now have walked in pattern laid down by the Council.

The first circumstance – as you recall in the initial pages of the Encyclical – stems from the fact that , throughout the centuries of modernity , there was a paradox: the Christian faith , whose novelty and impact on human life from the beginning have been expressed precisely through the symbol of light , has often been branded as the darkness of superstition which is opposed to the light of reason . So between the Church and the culture of Christian inspiration , on the one hand , and modern culture impression Enlightenment , on the other , it has come incommunicableness . Now the time has come , and the Vatican has just opened the season with an open and unbiased to reopen the doors for a serious and fruitful meeting .

The second circumstance , for those seeking to be faithful to the gift of following Jesus in the light of faith, comes from the fact that this dialogue is not an accessory secondary existence of the believer, it is instead an expression of intimate and indispensable. Let me quote a statement in this regard in my opinion very important Encyclical: because the truth testified by faith is that of love – there he said – ” it is clear that faith is not intransigent , but grows in coexistence that respects another. the believer is not arrogant , on the contrary , the truth makes humble , knowing that, more than we possess , is that it embraces us and we possess. dall’irrigidirci Far , security us on a journey of faith , and makes it possible to witness and dialogue with all “( n. 34). This is the spirit that animates the words that I write .

Faith , for me , was born from a personal encounter with Jesus , who has touched my heart and gave an address and a new meaning to my existence. But at the same time a meeting was made possible by the community of faith in which I lived and through which I found access to the intelligence of Sacred Scripture, the new life that flows like water gushing from Jesus through the sacraments , the fraternity with all the service of the poor, a true image of the Lord. Without the Church – believe me – I would not have been able to meet Jesus , while being aware that the immense gift which is faith is preserved in the fragile clay pots of our humanity.

It was precisely in From here, from this personal experience of faith lived in the Church, that I am comfortable in listening to your questions and to seek , together with you , the streets along which we can perhaps begin to do a little way together.
Forgive me if I do not follow step by step the arguments proposed by you in the editorial of July 7. It seems to me more fruitful – or at least is more congenial to me – to go in a certain way to the heart of his considerations . I will not even in exhibition mode followed by the encyclical , in which she sees the lack of a section devoted specifically to the historical experience of Jesus of Nazareth.

I look only to begin with, that such an analysis is not secondary . It is in fact , following the rest of the logic that guides the unfolding of the Encyclical , to focus attention on the meaning of what Jesus said and did , and so , ultimately, of what Jesus was and is for us. The Letters of Paul and the Gospel of John, to which particular reference is made in the Encyclical are built, in fact, on the solid foundation of the messianic ministry of Jesus of Nazareth at its height in resolving easter death and resurrection.

So we need to deal with Jesus , I would say , in the reality and harshness of his story , as recounted above all from oldest gospel , that of Mark. We note then that the “scandal ” that the word and the practice of Jesus cause around him stem from his extraordinary “authority” : a word, this , attested from the Gospel of Mark, but that is not easy to make good in Italian . The Greek word is ” exousia ” , which literally refers to what “comes from ” one is. This is not something external or forced , then, but of something that emanates from within and that imposes itself . Jesus actually hits, struck , innovates starting – he says – from his relationship with God, familiarly called Abba, which gives him this “authority” so that he may spend in favor of men .

So Jesus preached ” as one having authority,” heals, calls his disciples to follow him , forgive … All of these things in the Old Testament are of God, and only God The question that repeatedly comes back in Mark’s Gospel : ” Who is this who … ? ” and that the identity of Jesus , born from the finding of an authority different from that of the world, an authority that is not intended to exert power over others, but to serve , to give them freedom and fullness of life. And this to the point to stake his own life, up to experience misunderstanding, betrayal , rejection, up to be condemned to death , up to pounce in the state of abandonment on the cross. But Jesus remained faithful to God , to the end.

And it is precisely then – as the Roman centurion exclaims at the foot of the cross, in Mark’s Gospel – Jesus shows that , paradoxically, as the Son of God! Son of a God who is love and who wants with all his heart , that man , every man, is discovered and live as his true son , too . This , according to Christian belief , is certified by the fact that Jesus has risen : not to bring the triumph of those who have rejected, but to attest that God’s love is stronger than death , God’s forgiveness is stronger of all sin , and that is worth spending one’s life , to the end, to witness this great gift .

The Christian faith believes this : that Jesus is the Son of God came to give his life to open all the way of love . He therefore reason , dear Dr. Scalfari , when he sees the incarnation of the Son of God, the cornerstone of the Christian faith . Tertullian wrote, “dear cardo salutis ” , meat ( of Christ ) is the hinge of salvation . That the incarnation , namely the fact that the Son of God has come into our flesh and has shared joys and sorrows , victories and defeats of our existence , until the cry of the cross, experiencing everything in love and fidelity Abba , testifies to the incredible love that God has for every man, that recognizes the inestimable value . Each of us , therefore, is called to be his eyes and the choice of the love of Jesus , to get in his way of being, thinking and acting. This is the faith with all the expressions that are described in the Encyclical on time .

Always in the editorial of July 7, You ask me also how to understand the originality of the Christian faith as it hinges precisely on the incarnation of the Son of God , as compared to other faiths that revolve instead around the absolute transcendence of God
The originality , I would say , lies in the fact that faith gives us a share in Jesus , the relationship he has with God who is Abba and , in this light , the relationship that he has with all other men , including enemies , as a sign of love. In other words, the sonship of Jesus, as she is presented to the Christian faith , it is not proved insurmountable to mark a separation between Jesus and everyone else , but to tell us that , in Him, are all called to be children of the Father and brothers among us. The uniqueness of Jesus is for communication, not for exclusion.

Of course , it follows also – and not a small thing – the distinction between the religious sphere and the political sphere that is enshrined in the ” give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s ,” clearly affirmed by Jesus and on which , laboriously , has built the history of the West . The Church , in fact , is called to sow the baking powder and the salt of the Gospel, and that is the love and mercy of God that reach all men, pointing to the afterlife and the final destination of our own destiny , while civil society and policy touches the daunting task to articulate and embody in justice and solidarity , in law and in peace , a life ever more human . For those who live the Christian faith , that does not mean escape from the world or research of any hegemony , but service to mankind , to the whole man and all men , starting from the periphery of the story and keeping awake the sense of hope that drives to do good in spite of everything and always looking beyond .

You ask me also , at the conclusion of his first article, what to say to our Jewish brothers about the promise made to them by God : it is completely gone in circles? It is this – believe me – a question that challenges us radically , as Christians, because , with God’s help , especially since the Second Vatican Council, we have discovered that the people jew still is, for us, the holy root from which germinated Jesus too , in friendship that I have cultivated all these years along with fellow Jews in Argentina , many times I questioned God in prayer , especially when the mind was the memory of the terrible experience of the Holocaust. What I can say , with the Apostle Paul , is that it never has failed God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel and , through the terrible trials of these centuries , the Jews have preserved their faith in God of this , to them, we will never be sufficiently grateful , as a Church , but also as humanity. They then, just persevering in faith in the God of the covenant , remind everyone, including Christians , to the fact that we are always waiting, like the pilgrims, the Lord’s return , and that therefore we must always be open to Him and never arroccarci in what we have already achieved.

And so I come to the three questions that puts me in the article of August 7. It seems to me that , in the first two , what ‘s at heart is to understand the Church’s attitude toward those who do not share the faith of Jesus First of all , I asked if the Christian God forgives those who do not believe and do not look for the faith. Given that – and it’s the key thing – God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart , the question for those who do not believe in God is to obey his conscience . Sin, even for those who have no faith , there is when you go against conscience. Listen and obey it means, in fact , decide in the face of what is perceived as good or as bad. And on this decision you play the goodness or evil of our actions .

Second, it asks me if I thought according to which there is no absolute and therefore not even an absolute truth , but only a series of truths relative and subjective, it is a mistake or a sin . To begin with, I would not speak , not even to those who believe, the “absolute” truth , in the sense that all is what is untied , what is lacking in any relationship. Now , the truth , according to Christian belief , is the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. So , the truth is a relationship ! So much so that each of us takes , the truth , and expresses it from itself , from its history and culture , from the situation in which he lives , etc. . This does not mean that truth is subjective and variable , far from it. But it does mean that it gives us always and only as a journey and life. He did not say not Jesus himself : ” I am the way , the truth and the life” ? In other words , the truth being ultimately one with love , it requires humility and openness to be sought , welcomed and expressed. Therefore , we must understand well the terms and , perhaps, to exit from the confines of an opposition … absolute reset in depth the issue . I think this is now a compelling need for engaging in peaceful and constructive dialogue that I hoped the beginning of my say.

The last question asks me if , with the disappearance of man on earth , will disappear even thought capable of thinking God Sure, man’s greatness lies in being able to think that God in order to live a conscious and responsible relationship with Him But the relationship is between two realities . God – this is my thought and my experience this , but how many , yesterday and today, share them ! – Is not an idea , albeit high , the result of man’s thought . God is actually with the uppercase “R” . Jesus reveals it – and living relationship with Him – as a Father of infinite goodness and mercy . God does not depend , therefore, on our thinking . Moreover, even when they end the life of man on earth – and for the Christian faith , in any case, this world as we know it is destined to fail – the man to exist and will not end in a so that we do not know , even the created universe with him. The Scripture speaks of ” new heavens and a new earth ” and states that , in the end, in where and when it is beyond us, but to which , in faith, we tend with desire and expectation God will be “all in everyone. ”

Dear Dr. Scalfari , so I conclude my reflections, aroused by what he wanted to tell me and ask me. Welcome them as the answer tentative and provisional , but sincere and trusting , I have seen the invitation to make a road together. The Church , believe me, despite all the delays , infidelities , mistakes and sins he may have committed and can still commit in those who compose it, has no other meaning and purpose than to live and bear witness to Jesus : He who is was sent from Abba ” to bring glad tidings to the poor , to proclaim release to the captives and sight to the blind , to set at liberty those who are oppressed , to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” ( Lk 4 , 18-19 ) .

Comments:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *