Religion News Service (RNS) is a renowned source for news, which specializes in covering stories and current events for their implications regarding religion, ethics, and more. One of its reporters, Josephine McKenna, broke the story about Pope Francis’ controversial statements with respect to evolution, creation, and God this past Monday. The USA Today picked up her story, and ran it on their online website the very next day. Since then, every legitimate news outlet has covered this story six ways to Sunday. Some have cheered the Pope’s language decrying intelligent design and its related views. There are others who have sounded the alarm regarding the Pope’s statements, but sadly, those brave souls have been rare.
I expected R. Albert Mohler, Jr. to be one of the first to engage with the theological problems associated with the Pope’s comments. When one reads the transcript of his podcast addressing Pope Francis’ statements regarding evolution, creation, and God, the reader will discover a sharp, albeit brief, critique of Christianity’s failure to hold this man accountable for his views. Mohler’s keen observation is spot on at the present time. There really has not been much discussion within Christianity-at-large over the Pope’s comments. Of course, the structure of the Roman Catholic Church makes it difficult for the laity to raise genuine concerns over its theology and practice. If there is going to be any questioning or examination of the Pope’s theology, then it must come from the current priests and bishops within the Vatican.
The Pope’s comments have made their way through the blogosphere, too. One of the most incisive posts that I have come across can be found here at The Protestant Pulpit. In this piece, the author highlights the fallout one should expect after incorporating evolution into one’s theology. I heartily recommend my readers check out this post. It covers way more ground than I will in this one; however, I will throw in my two cents into the pot for what it’s worth. Before I focus on the issue that jumps out at me, I will let Pope Francis speak for himself:
“The beginning of the world was not the work of chaos, which owes its origin to another, but it derives directly from a Supreme Principle who creates out of love. The Big-Bang, that is placed today at the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine intervention but exacts it. The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve” (translation excerpt from Pope Francis’ Inauguration Address, Mon., Oct. 27, 2014).
From my perspective, this statement is a jumbled mess of ideas and concepts. The first independent clause about the world not being the work of chaos fits nicely with the notion of intelligent design. Where the Pope goes astray is in the next clause describing God a supreme principle. This seems to suggest that there might be another principle higher than him. I might be splitting hairs, but the article a conveys something entirely different than using the in this case. Rather than calling God the supreme principle, the Pope refers to him as a supreme principle. To my mind, the Pope’s language effectively diminishes God as the Supreme Being. If the God of the bible is not Almighty, then there is no real reason to order one’s life according to his words.
There is another issue that flows out of the Pope’s descriptor of God as a supreme principle. This appears to turn God into an abstraction or an impersonal deity similar to Hinduism’s Brahman. Yes, the Pope does attempt to smuggle into the back door the notion that this Supreme Principle creates out of love; however, he has painted himself into a corner. Do concepts think or feel or express themselves using personal attributes? A person has attributes or traits that find expression in relational contexts. There is no mention of the Trinity in the Pope’s comments. Long before the foundation of the world, God existed as himself in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If the Pope had interjected into his address anything about the Trinity, then I can allow for his comment about God creating out of love.
Because the Trinity makes no appearance in the Pope’s address, and he refers to God as a Supreme Principle, then in what way can the Pope attribute creation as flowing out of love? This creates enormous philosophical and theological problems regarding sin, death, and evil. One might argue that the Pope was not aiming for theological and philosophical precision. To quote ESPN College Gameday commentator, Lee Corso, “not so fast, my friend.” The Pope occupies the highest position of authority in the Roman Catholic Church. His position grants him a special grace or favor known as Papal Infallibility. This doctrine teaches that the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error “when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole.”
Has Pope Francis spoken on behalf of Roman Catholics throughout the whole world? Of course he has not, but priests and bishops may not risk their jobs for opposing his eminence. I keep wondering what my grandparents on my mom’s side would think about the Pope’s statements if they were still alive. The only hope for God-fearing Roman Catholics who disagree with Pope Francis is to gather in numbers to pray and support those bishops and priests who do rise up to question the errors of his eminence.