Pope Francis and the Catholic God

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Pope Francis’s interview with atheist journalist Eugenio Scalfari may not have grabbed secular headlines in the US the way that this interview with Jesuit publications did, but it has caused some stir in Catholics circles. I can certainly understand a certain amount of this. We’ve had two very intellectual popes who have lead the church for the last thirty years, taking it from a time in which even orthodox Catholics felt unsure and adrift into a new dynamism and evangelism. In addition to being towering intellects, John Paul II and Benedict XVI (Benedict even more so) were popes hailing from central/northern Europe. Encountering a Latin pope for the first time in my life (Francis is, after all, not just from Argentina but also the son of Italian immigrants, so he’s at the confluence of two southern European cultures) and one who is not a theologian, I’m realizing how much the emotive and more casual aspects of southern Europe and South America (primarily colonized by southern Europe) are not mine. Culturally and intellectually, John Paul II and Benedict XVI are simply much more my style.

That said, I don’t necessarily follow how it is that certain statements become points of controversy. One of these is from this “second interview” and it comes after Francis asks Scalfari what he believes in. Scalfari responds, “I believe in Being, that is in the tissue from which forms, bodies arise.” And Francis says:

And I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being. Do you think we are very far apart?

(Scalfari says they are, and in the next interchange Francis pushes him to explain, if he believe in “Being” but doesn’t believe in God, what does he mean.)

Now, apparently this has caused some unease in Catholic circles because of the phrase “not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God”. Does this suggest some kind of indifferentism in which the Catholic understanding of God is no better than any other? A generic God without qualities that everyone has some insight into?


Actually, I think people are wrong to see this particular statement as problematic. There is, obviously, only one God. Or as Francis said, “[T]here is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation.” We, as Catholics, recognize that the Church provides us with the most complete and accurate understanding of God’s teachings available to us as human beings here on earth, and also with the body and blood of Christ through the Eucharist. But God Himself is not sectarian. He is not “the Catholic God” or “the Christian God” as if there were other gods or other ways of understanding God. He is simply God, and the Church is the way to understanding of and union with him.

We use the phrase “the Christian God” at times, as a shorthand to refer to the Christian understanding of God, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure that I’ve used the phrase plenty of times. But I think there’s also a value, as Francis does here, in underlining that God is not some cordoned off thing relevant only to Christians or Catholics. There is the objective existence of God, and all our doctrines are simply an attempt to describe that existence. But God is primary and the Church is a response to Him, not vice versa.

This is not, clearly, something that orthodox Christians need to be reminded of. (Though perhaps flaky Christians of the sort likely to think of all religions as being true could use the reminder.) But it is, arguably, a point worth making with a non-Christian who is claiming that he believes in “Being”. Our doctrines don’t consist of believing in some restricted Being relevant only to us Christians. Rather, the teachings of the Church describe that Being, God, and His encounter with us through the Incarnation. The Church’s teachings represent the completion, the end point, of any sense that God is out there somewhere. As Paul said, the unknown god is no longer unknown. We know him.

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  1. When this came out, interview, Al Kresta gave what I believed to be a fair overview. He did his homework and brought to light the gifts that Pope Francis was sharing with Scalfari.
    This was heard on Catholic radio, Baragra broadcasting in my neck of the woods.

    Thank you Darwin for confirming what Al had viewed this to be.

    Peace of Christ as we walk through this valley of tears.

  2. @Darwin Catholic “Culturally and intellectually, John Paul II and Benedict XVI are simply much more my style.” Fine for a religious intellectual, but we peons are able to understand Pope Francis perfectly. As my old,late priest taught us in bible study….even the Indians who pray to the great man in the sky….are praying to the same God as all people do. There IS ONLY ONE GOD, WHATEVER ONE MAY CALL HIM.

  3. “Catholic God” gave me pause for thought, so I indulged myself by writing out these little thoughts:
    In pagan cultures people would make gods out of wood or clay or something, set it up in a place, and ascribe certain traits and responsibility to this god or idol. The Hebrews by contrast, grew in the understanding that instead of man making god, God created man. God IS, prior to man’s definition.
    When we use the term “Greek god” we are talking mythology: man-made gods. “Norse god” or “Germanic god” may cause us a bit more trepidation that there is some spiritual reality addressed there— something occult— still we keep the “g” in the lower case, recognizing that this is not THE God. As Jews and Christians, and as Catholics we know something of God because He has revealed Himself. We can’t be afraid to say that, or should not act to pantheists and atheists like whatever their thoughts are are just as good as what God has revealed.
    We can call God “Catholic” because He is really universal. “Catholic” describes God’s catholicity— always everywhere.
    “Catholic God” also describes His relationship to HIs Church. “As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body.” (Catechism #669 ) HIs Body is Catholic. “Catholic” describes the Actual/Mystical Body of Christ/God,
    For the pope to say God is not Catholic makes one wonder if all the gods or definitions of gods are equal with him. Who is he to judge?
    God is a person, not a force or an energy or “being”. God revealed Himself to us as a person: “I” “Who”
    There is not God separate from Jesus. God is One. Allah is not Trinity. God is Trinity. Allah is not only not Catholic, Allah is not God. Vishnu is also not Catholic and not God. Allah would not enter the human race. The Catholic God does. Jesus is God. Jesus became Man and He is a Catholic God/Man.
    Was St. Peter a Catholic?
    The Catholic Church is a sacrament, a mysterious work of God, a visible sign of the invisible.The Church is eternally created by God Jesus; the Church is implicit in Israel B.C.. took it’s earthly form after Christ’s incarnation, and will continue eternally.
    As a matter of fact, I think we we get to heaven we will all be Catholic.

  4. You were talking about God not being just relevant to Catholics and I agree with you as I said because of His catholicity. But the Church is not just a human response to Him
    In the old covenants there was a kind of treaty that required agreed upon responses and they met with failure
    In the new covenant God joins our human race that our end of the Covenant can be upheld. Christian covenant is not like any other covenant because of Who the Covenanters are. “Christian” . “”The Christ” has meaning. The Church of the Christ, rightly called Catholic, takes its Identification marks from its Head. It is important that that identification not be blurred into equation with smooshy agnostic ideas ( or even “we are not so far apart) agnosticism monism are worlds away from faith in the living person of Jesus The Christ Head of the Catholic Church
    The Pope, his Vicar is called as Moses was, to governance. You remember from Exodus that Moses sat in a Chair to judge and give definitive teachings.

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