PopeWatch: Jesus Apologizing




Father Z takes a look at the latest hoof in mouth episode of the Pope:


I’ve been so busy in the last days that I haven’t paid much attention to some news stories floating around out there… and I have been the happier for it.

One story, however, could use some drilling, because it is causing some consternation.

On 27 Dec 2015 for the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis said something (HERE) that made me scratch my head a little.  Emphasis mine.

At the end of that pilgrimage, Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents (cf. Lk 2:51). This image also contains a beautiful teaching about our families. A pilgrimage does not end when we arrive at our destination, but when we return home and resume our everyday lives, putting into practice the spiritual fruits of our experience. We know what Jesus did on that occasion. Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little “escapade”, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it. Mary’s question, moreover, contains a certain reproach, revealing the concern and anguish which she and Joseph felt. …

Christ “probably had to apologize” for this “scappatella… fling, bit of fun, escapade”.

I think Francis is trying to emphasize the human drama of the moment in the Gospel so as to make the scenario more vivid to the people listening in that moment, rather than add a deeper teaching point to posterity.

For my part, I think people can handle reflections on Christ as Eternal Word made Savior rather than Eternal Word made Ferris Bueller.

No, scratch that.  I don’t recall that Ferris apologized for his scappatella.  He was a bad boy. The young Jesus was a good boy… who would have apologized.  Right?

I’m not sure about that.

This is a good opportunity to drill more deeply into the Mystery of the Finding in the Temple, which I have done in the past in my Patristic Rosary Project.  Let’s drill deeper.

First, consider what the Lord replied (Luke 2 – Douay):

And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business? And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them.

In so answering His earthly parents, the Lord teaches that the Father’s will is the only thing to which He must be obedient.  In humility, and according to filial piety/duty, He submitted Himself to Joseph and Mary.  But in truth, a superior filial piety/duty guided Him.

The scene of the Finding in the Temple is one of the only bits of information we have about this era of the Lord’s early life in Scripture. Therefore, great writers and thinkers have given it their consideration.

With due respect to the person of the Roman Pontiff, I can’t square this supposition about an apology with what Fathers of the Church have to say about this striking moment in the youth of the Lord.

Frankly, what he suggested initially sounded to me a bit like Nestorianism.  (NB: I’m not saying that Francis is a Nestorian but some dope or two out there will claim that.)  Why?  Nestorianism is Christological heresy that proposes a disconnect between Christ’s human and divine natures.  Nestorius (+450 – influenced by Theodore of Mopsuestia – spit here) wanted to defend two natures in Christ against those who claimed that Christ had only one nature, a divine nature.  Monophysites (“One nature-ites”) propose that Christ’s humanity was entirely absorbed by His divinity and therefore He had only one nature, divine.  Against monophysites, Nestorians propose that Christ has two natures, loosely united in such a way that the Person Jesus is not identical with the God the Son but rather is united with the Son, who lives in him.  A Nestorian Jesus would not have the same unity of intellect and will as the real Jesus.  Such a Jesus could, therefore, be imagined as being apologetic for His acts, as not knowing what He was doing, as acting in His human nature in a way that is not consistent with His divine nature – of doing things for which he ought to have and would have apologized.

On the contrary, I respond, the Lord had nothing to apologize for in being concerned firstly with His higher duty.  The Lord taught this to Mary and Joseph.  Scripture says in a pointed way that Mary pondered Christ’s statement.  “And his mother kept all these words in her heart.”  She learned to see her Son in a new way.

Christ apologizing seems to me to contradict the point of His words to Mary.

Scripture doesn’t say: “And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business? And they understood not the word that He spoke unto them. And therefore spoke Joseph unto Him saying, “Callest thou that an answer? What sayest Thou to Thy sorrowing mother?” And thereafter Mary, sorrowing, said “Thou art sooo grounded.”

And… does Christ apologize anywhere else in Scripture? Even when teaching hard teachings?  His teaching in the Temple to His mother and Father was hard teaching, after all.  Did He say in John 6: “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.  These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum. Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it? But Jesus, knowing in himself, that his disciples murmured at this, said to them, Sorry! Hey! Wait! Don’t leave! I apologize!”  Or in Matthew 19: “And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery. His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry. And He replied, Verily, you are right.  I take it back.  I apologize.”

Let’s move on.

Venerable Bede says in his Homilies on the Gospels 1, 19:

“Clearly the abode in the hearts of the elect of the holy Trinity, the nature of whose divinity is one and indivisible, cannot be disparate. Therefore, when He was Sitting in the temple, the Lord said, “I must be about my Father’s business,” and this is a declaration of His power and glory which are coeternal with God the Father’s.  [That isn’t something to apologize for.] However, when He returned to Nazareth, He was subject to His parents, and this is an indication of His true humanity as well as an example of humility. He was subject to human beings in that human nature in which He is less than the Father. Hence He Himself said, “I go to the Father because the Father is greater than I.”

Ambrose of Milan (+397) helps us sort out the Lord’s dutiful attitude of obedience to Joseph and Mary in view of His duties to God the Father.


Go here to read the rest.  This incident on one level is not as serious as many misstatements, mistakes, errors and plain baffling sayings by the Pope.  I doubt if the Pope meant any disrespect by his remark.  I think it is merely an example of how he frequently makes statements that are half thought through, not realizing the implications of what he is saying.


On another level it is all too redolent of the lack of awe that people too often display today about Christ.  He is not your pal or your good buddy.  He is not some sort of ancient sage.  He is not an error filled human like the rest of us.  He is I AM, the creator of All, who died for us to free us from our sins against Him.  The cavalier way people treat Christ today is a sin.    If only some of the biggest fans of this Pope would treat Christ with the respect they accord his Vicar.

More to explorer


  1. I have this from a left-limping priest in a sermon about a year ago. Still and again it irks me.
    The bible all read in context does not contradict truth. The passage reminds us that Mary and Joseph were not omniscient and needed to be taught. The passage is also prophetic about what for them and for us.

  2. I cut the Pope a lot of slack more than others normally as being simply loquacious… but not here. If your concept of Christ is that He ever was obligated to apologize for even one action, then I pity you and now I pity this Pope and wouldn’t want his consciousness about Christ. Christ was gone for three days and could have left word with someone in the caravan that He was at the temple or simply not lost and would be back. He deliberately did not leave word because He was weaning His earthly parents not from sin but He was weaning them away from a good…attachment to one’s child. Christ used shock in His relating to others. He used it later on the Canaanite woman…” it is not right to give the food of the children to dogs”. He was shocking her into new steps of humility as a Trappist abbot pointed out….then Christ praised her faith within minutes as great. Christ shocked Mary and Martha by remaining still in one place for several days after they told him Lazarus was dying…Jn.11:6 ” he stayed on where he was for two more days”. He shocked them into a new level of trust…the level that says that when God arrives late, He’s right on time. It is Martha’s shining moment and most remember only her busy problem from another moment. When Christ at 12 left no word that He would be ok for three days, that was deliberate. He was weaning two wonderful people from a good thing…attachment to a child. Think of the times God shocked you in life. You grew immensely afterwards. It’s what He must do as part of the plan.

  3. Sorry, I wrote too fast. I meant ” about what was coming for them and for us”. The whole episode is instructive and prophetic for them and for us.
    Also, it is not like He was chagrined and then went home and was Then subject to them . … Altering his behavior after having acted badly. No he was Always obedient, honoring His mother and earthly father At The Same Time, He was always their Lord! And they knew it. They are our models of humility.
    His gentle question to them is part of His pedagogy His manner of teaching by helping them (us) to reflect and learn

  4. So the parents of the boy Jesus missed Him for three days as He taught in the Temple.
    And Jesus as an adult was later in the bowels of the Earth for three days before His Mother would see Him again after the Resurrection.
    And Jesus apologized for this?

  5. I dunno. I can see a case for “sorry about that” in the colloquial sense of “it’s unfortunate/regrettable that you caused yourself needless worry and consternation.”

    But that’s hardly begging forgiveness, is it?

  6. Strictly speaking, Christ did apologize: “Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?” is an apology.

  7. Ernst, I agree. The Gospel does record an apology, and those are the precise words. I think Pope Francis was heading in that direction, but his ‘stream of consciousness’ style took over and he didn’t make it.

  8. It’s not a “I did wrong” apology, but it is rather a “I didn’t want to hurt you– didn’t you realize that I’d be doing this?” type apology. (A reason or justification is also an “apology.”)
    I put it in the same category as the “Jesus was incredibly poor” or “Jesus wasn’t educated” musings; over-reaching to make a point.

  9. The 5th Joyful mystery of the Holy Rosary:
    If anyone says Jesus begged forgiveness for this incident, such a person is dancing on the edge of blasphemy.
    Folks dont follow him there.
    Indeed the destiny of such a person is already prophesied in the Sacred Scriptures (see 2 Peter2 )

  10. over-reaching to make a point.
    Usually a wrong one.
    Mary was a single-mother
    Jesus (Mary, Joseph) was a refugee (homeless)
    Joseph was in Bethlehem to pay his taxes. How come you never hear that one?

  11. I don’t think that was intended as an apology at all. Rather it was intended to underline who He was.
    Invoking Popeye’s “Y’am what Y’am and that’s all what I am” is an apology. For some of us, the “regretful acknowledgement of offense or failure” one.
    But quite clearly, we don’t have that begging-forgiveness thing that Francis spoke about going on here.

  12. “Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?” is a question.
    “I am sorry I worried you,” is an apology.
    Why would a perfect God need to apologize?

  13. “Joseph was in Bethlehem to pay his taxes. How come you never hear that one?”

    Because all they (leftists) got are higher taxes/who pays and false secular equivalencies, and they can’t talk about higher taxes/who pays. The “jig would be up.”

  14. “Apology” simply means a defence or justification and does not necessarily imply regret (although it may); still less does it amount to an admission of wrongdoing.

    Thus, Socrates says to Miletus at his trial, “”Here is, against my first accusers, a sufficient apology (ἀπολογία)…”

    Similarly, Daniel Defoe says, in his New Voyage Around The World, “The consequence of those measures will be the best apology for my conduct with all, who will impartially consider them.”

    The word comes from ἀπολογέομαι, which literally means “to talk oneself off” (of a charge &c)

  15. The Sorrows of Mary are not to be apologized for by Jesus nor God the Father.
    The pope mentioned Jesus causing his parents great distress, for which He needed to beg forgiveness… ( pope can assume)
    We do not do eisegesis we do exegesis very carefully. Rather than interpreting a text such that the process introduces your own presuppositions, agendas, we read carefully in context, realizing that the Bible (nor Jesus) is not self contradictory.
    Mary’s accpetance, her fiat was ongoing as she participated with her Son in suffering.
    An explanation is not an apology, unless you are thinking in terms of an apologetic.
    If there were an expression of sympathy or compassion it is not related by Luke.

  16. Like you, I have always been astonished with what I saw as a chastisement citing the need to be about His Father’s business and far from an apology. He softened this by staying with them for another 18 years, I wish we knew more about those 18 years when He was submissive to them.

  17. Father Z has done a great service to us by outlining real Catholic theological research and study versus a shallow, feel good, reflective of the moment kind of exegesis that Pope Francis offered.

    It’s comments like these from Pope Francis that cause so many of us to have concern — either for his mental state or for his Catholic formation simply because his analysis (as well as many other clerics throughout the world who offered the same analysis of that Gospel passage recently) is so wrong that it causes confusion about the very nature of Christ.

    If more clergy outlined matters of the Faith like Father Z has here would go a long way to a more faithful, confident Church than what we have right now.

  18. By his saying that Jesus probably had to beg the forgiveness of his parents, did the pope deny the divinity of Christ? I think it is a fair question.

  19. James asks, “did the pope deny the divinity of Christ? I think it is a fair question.”

    The bounds of orthodoxy are by hard to draw: recall that Bl Theodoret was convinced St Cyril was an Apollinarian and he re3turned the compliment by condemning Theodoret as a Nestorian.

    From the very beginning, the Church has always taught our Lord is both God and man, but attempts to explain this and draw out its implications led to furious debates in the 4th and 5th centuries and three general councils, Ephesus, Chalcedon and Constantinople were summoned to deal with it. The upshot was a number of schisms, with the Assyrians rejecting Ephesus and the Armenians, the Copts and the Ethiopians rejecting Chalcedon; they remain in separation to this day.

    Mgr Ronald Knox described the work of the councils, in an Oxford sermon: “You know how, going up and down the river, you sometimes come across a stone monument telling you where somebody or other was drowned. It’s nice that he should have a memorial; it is also a good thing that you should be told which parts of the river are treacherous to bathe in. And the creeds are like those monuments; when you’ve seen where Apollinaris fell in, and where Nestorius fell in, and where Eutyches fell in, you don’t, unless you’re a fool, go and make the same mistake. The Church has put up signposts traffic-lights which you gate-crash at your peril. You know what Catholic doctrine isn’t. But, on the positive side, when you’ve said that two Natures were united under a single Person, you haven’t made the truth more luminous to your own mind. We don’t know what a Person is, and we don’t know what a nature is. All you can say, quite roughly, is that your nature is what you have, and your person is what you are… Philosophy has to confess itself beaten when it is asked what it means by the distinction between the person, what a man is, and the nature, what a man has; it’s a mystery of our common human thought. And out of that mystery grows the mystery of the hypostatic union.”

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