83. What Francis Really Thinks of the Reformation (and of Calvin in Particular)

June 23rd, 2014

Friendly. Appreciative. Always wanting to stress commonalities and to lay aside differences. This has been the popular image of Pope Francis in his dealings with non-Catholics thus far. Many are impressed by his easy-going style that often seeks to affirm others. This may have been the rule but now there is an exception, and a very significant one. The recent re-publication of a lecture on the history of the Jesuits that Archbishop Bergoglio gave in Argentina in 1985 indicates the kind of harsh assessment that he gave of the Protestant Reformation in general and of John Calvin in particular. The lecture was re-published in Spain in 2013 and then translated into Italian in book form (Chi sono i gesuiti, Bologna: EMI, 2014). Since there is no indication that he has changed his mind, we have to consider the contents of the book an accurate reflection of what Francis still thinks of the Protestant Reformation.

Protestantism as the Root of all Evils

In examining the history of the Jesuits Bergoglio gives special attention to their interactions with the Reformation and their role in the Latin-American missions. According to him the inevitable consequences of the Reformation are the annihilation of man in his anxiety (resulting in existential atheism), and a leap in the dark by a type of superman (as envisaged by Nietzsche). Both outcomes lead to “the death of God”, and a kind of “paganism” that manifests itself as Nazism and Marxism. All this originating from the “Lutheran position”! Bergoglio argues that the Reformation is the root of all the tragedies of the modern West, from secularization to the death of God, from totalitarian regimes to ideological suicides.

There is nothing new under the sun. This disparaging and appalling view of the Reformation has been the common reading of modern European history by scores of Counter-reformation Catholic polemists until recent decades. Bergoglio did not invent it. He rather reaffirms it as if more thorough historical research and theological and cultural analyses never took place after the Council of Trent. What can we make of his friendly tones towards Protestants if he really thinks that the “Lutheran position” is to be blamed for all the evils of Western civilization?

John Calvin the Spiritual Executioner

There is more. Bergoglio makes a distinction between Martin Luther the “heretic” and John Calvin the “heretic” and “schismatic”. The Lutheran heresy is “a good idea gone foolish”, but Calvin is even worse because he also tore apart man, society, and the church. As for man, Bergoglio’s Calvin split reason from the heart, thus producing the “Calvinist squalor”. In society, Calvin pitted the bourgeoisie against the other working classes, thus becoming “the father of liberalism”. The worst schism happened in the church, however. There Calvin “beheaded the people of God from being united with the Father”. He beheaded the people of God from its patron saints. He also beheaded it from the mass, i.e. the mediation of the “really present” Christ. In summary, Calvin was an executioner that destroyed man, poisoned society, and ruined the church!

To say that Bergoglio does not like Calvin is an understatement. He has strong feelings against him. But are we sure that he understands Calvin beyond totally biased and outdated clichés? 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and will be an opportunity for Francis to go back to more recent history books and get a fairer and more accurate picture of what happened from the XVI century onwards. If he does not revise his assessment of the Reformation all “ecumenical” language will be a superficial mask hiding a real hatred for Luther and (especially) Calvin.

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