This second article on the upcoming Assisi Conference of March 2020 (Francis Economy), follows a first piece published in La Verità on May 15th. Today I would like to limit myself to some historical-spiritual considerations.
Many varieties of pauperistic heresies developed in the Middle Ages from the 12th to the 13th century, during the time of Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) as a reaction to the opulence of ecclesiastical hierarchs. Various mendicant orders arose such as the little friars, the humiliated, the evangelical poor, beguines, patari, Waldensians and others who progressively prepared the ground for the great heresy (seemingly) related to economic reasons: the Protestant Reformation. Scholars of these problems also explain that starting from the end of the fourteenth century, people became convinced that poverty, as an ideal of life, was impossible to achieve and could even harm the weak. They also note that a ‘poor church’ was an error because she would not have resources to evangelize and do charitable works. It followed that the religious pauperistic protest underwent a transformation; its adepts allied themselves with social protesters against to the Roman Church and gradually contributed to the preparation of the Protestant Reformation, which generated a second church without Rome. Today, let us reflect on this point.
One should therefore keep a watchful eye on this movement to draw inspiration from Saint Francis to try to “humanize” the economy. Indeed, Saint Francis did not address economic issues but rather the conversion of people’s hearts. You cannot humanize the economy unless you first convert the person managing the economy. In fact, it is not the economic structures and tools that must be changed, but the heart of the person using them. Otherwise there is a risk of protestantizing the use of the economic instrument, which takes moral autonomy. Therefore, if someone chooses Saint Francis as his teacher, let him really listen to his implicit lessons.
Saint Francis wanted the poverty he had chosen to be revealed in the purity of the Gospel. He certainly did not claim to make it a lesson in economics, let alone against the rich. The poor beggars, mendicants, were not poor of Saint Francis because they did not seek, want or love poverty as did the saint of Assisi. The poverty they claimed, which sometimes was useful to their often just rebellion, was not the poverty of Saint Francis. His poverty certainly was not that of the poor “by misfortune” and even less so a poverty “out of polemical rancor,” that is, the one displayed by heretics. Saint Francis was poor by vocation, for the love of Christ. Only the Gospel neither laments nor protests against poverty, but expresses it without rancor or complaints because poverty is identified with Jesus himself.
Not even Pope Innocent III, the Pope of Saint Francis, who called the crusade against the Albigensian heretics and wrote De Contemptu mundi (in which he despises the misery of the human condition), had understood the spirit of Saint Francis’ poverty. It was not easy to understand this spirit. While even Saint Bernard had called poverty in the world “holy”, Saint Francis was not speaking of a temporal poverty that sanctifies those who are able to bear it without desiring it. He was speaking of a poverty that enriches and gives happiness to those who want it and love it. Note, however, that Saint Francis’ poverty was not an end but only a means thanks to which he was free to place his own thoughts in God and do the will of God.
In Saint Francis’ own Laudato Sì, all creatures are called to praise God according to their natural role. Only man is called to do so by exercising virtue with merit by forgiving and suffering, Saint Francis writes. Here Saint Francis distinguishes two levels of creatures with different roles and duties, and asks human creatures to exercise virtues, gaining merit with their actions, specifically by forgiving and enduring tribulations. In fact, God is “meritocratic” (notwithstanding progressive theologians, who consider this a “blasphemy”).
Therefore, to consider humanizing the economy inspired by a (subjectively interpreted) spirituality of Saint Francis poses risks: Risks of delusion with modern “pauperistic” utopias that could generate irreversible errors, as they are oriented to economic degrowth for the benefit of a neomalthusian-environmentalist cult of nature in contempt of man, implicitly seen as the ‘cancer of nature’. This would also, perhaps indirectly, favor pagan religions “more attentive to the environment than Christian ones.”
One last consideration. Instead of talking about the “common home” (the environment) when referring to Creation, a Catholic inspired by Saint Francis should speak of Creation as “a family asset in the House of God” to be treated with the utmost respect. But if the theology prevalent today affirms that the Church is part of the world, she risks being “evangelized by the world” and will lose her role and task of contributing to generate the true common good.
Source: La Verità, July 27, 2019
Positions and concepts emitted in signed articles are the sole responsibility of their authors.
© Reproduction is authorized provided the source is acknowledged.