Did Pope Francis Deny the Divinity of Christ? Probably Yes and No
Fatima Perspectives #1343
Yet again Pope Francis has granted an interview to his atheist friend and confidante, Eugenio Scalfari. Yet again Scalfari has published a heresy he attributes to Francis. And, yet again, the Vatican has issued an artfully worded non-denial.
As reported here in the original Italian, Scalfari recounts that “Those who have had the chance, as I have had different times, to meet him [Pope Francis] and speak to him with the greatest cultural confidence, know that Pope Francis conceives Christ as Jesus of Nazareth, a man, not God incarnate. Once incarnated, Jesus ceases to be a God and becomes a man until his death on the cross.” Purportedly quoting Francis verbatim on the theological significance of Christ’s lamentation on the Cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, Scalfari next writes: “When I happened to discuss these sentences Pope Francis told me: ‘They are the definite proof that Jesus of Nazareth, once he became a man, even if he was a man of exceptional virtue, was not God at all.’”
Headlines the world over screamed that Francis has denied the divinity of Christ, and the Vatican was forced to issue yet another “clarification” that does not squarely deny the heretical view Scalfari attributes to the Pope. Quoth the Holy See Press Office’s director, Matteo Bruni:
“As already stated on other occasions, the words that Dr. Eugenio Scalfari attributes in quotation marks to the Holy Father during conversations with him cannot be considered as a faithful account of what has actually been said, but rather represent a personal and free interpretation of what he has heard, as is quite evident from what has been written today about the divinity of Jesus Christ.”
Now, if a Pope is publicly accused before the whole world of denying Christ’s divinity, the same Pope obviously has an obligation to affirm that dogma of the Faith just as publicly and to deny the heresy falsely attributed to him. A Vatican press release equivocating about the “interpretation” of the Pope’s words will hardly do.
But from Francis we hear no denial. Nor has he ever denied any of the other heterodox opinions Scalfari claims to have heard him utter, including the heresy that the souls of the damned are annihilated not eternally punished in Hell. In each case the Vatican has issued an equivocal “clarification” that pointedly avoids an outright denial.
So, has Francis denied the divinity of Christ? In my view, probably yes and no, which would account for the absence of a flat denial of Scalfari’s account. By which I mean that Francis has not denied Christ’s divinity as such, but only His divinity while He was on earth. This would involve some form of the Modernist or liberal Protestant interpretation of the kenosis, the act by which God “emptied Himself” when He became man.
As Scripture declares: “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied [ekenosen] himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.” (Phil. 2:6 et seq.)
The infallible Catholic teaching on this point, as explained by the Catholic Encyclopedia, is that the kenosis involves Christ’s “assumption of humanity and the simultaneous occultation [hiddenness] of the Divinity.” That is, divinity remains entirely in all its aspects but is hidden by Christ’s humanity, by which God Incarnate subjected Himself to certain human limitations, including human birth, the lowliness of human nature (but not Original Sin), the subjection to certain kinds of pain and suffering (such as wounding, but not disease or defect), including emotional suffering (such as grief or anguish, but not depression or other mental disorder), and the physical needs and wants of a human body (food, water, hunger, thirst). There is also the experience of “morally blameless passions and affections, e.g. fear, sadness” but subject to the control of the divine will in Christ, Whose human will was subject to the divine will according to the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures of Christ in one divine Person Whose very personality is divine, not human.
Contrary to Catholic teaching, Modernist and liberal Protestant versions of the kenosis hold either that God completely emptied Himself of His divinity in becoming man, ceasing to be God, or that His divine nature was merely appropriated as a kind of divine accessory to the human nature that predominated in Him. Citing the views of “modern Protestants,” to which we can add Modernists, the Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes under the following points:
- Christ “possessed the Divinity in such a way as to have a right to its use”;
- “a self-emptying of the Divine manner of existence, as a self-limitation of the Word’s omniscience, omnipresence, etc.”;
- “…the Word became, rather than assumed, the human soul of Christ”;
- “the Word in His kenosis strips Himself even of His immutable holiness, His infinite love and His personal consciousness, so as to enter into a human development similar to ours.”
Barring a flat denial that will probably never be issued, it would appear that Francis holds to a liberal Protestant or Modernist view of Christ as essentially a man with a human personality, not God with a divine personality united to a human nature. For Francis the kenosis would be an emptying of the divine nature, not merely its hiddenness behind the “habit” (Phil. 2:60) of a man. This would explain his apparent aversion to Gospel accounts of the divine power of Christ as manifested in such miracles as the multiplication of fishes and loaves or his opinion that Christ wronged His parents by remaining in the Temple to treat with the elders and had to apologize to them for His “little escapade” when they returned to find Him there.
All in all, I agree with John Allen (speaking back in 2013) that when it comes to what Scalfari publishes concerning the theological views of this wayward Pope, “the big picture is accurate. I don’t think, in any fundamental way, he misrepresented the pope’s thought. But I also think it’s impossible to know where Francis ends and Scalfari begins, at the level of detail. I would just be very careful. I, myself, will not take any direct quotes out of that interview and present them as coming from the pope.”
In other words, Scalfari has, again and again, accurately conveyed the substance of what Francis thinks; and the Vatican, again and again, has failed to deny the substance. And why should we doubt the substance given the past six-and-a-half years of this pontificate, which has ushered in Holy Communion for public adulterers and is now poised to open the door to the abolition of priestly celibacy and the invention of female “deacons” in the context of lauding the primitive superstitions and pagan rituals of Amazon tribes that practice infanticide?
The apostasy that “begins at the top,” as the Third Secret warns, has reached an apex of ecclesial disorder with this Pope. The view that Christ emptied Himself of His very divinity is consistent with the neo-Modernist disaster this papacy represents.
Today (October 10), as LifeSiteNews reports, the Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, Paolo Ruffini, insisted that the Pope “never said what Scalfari wrote.” Query: Is that what Francis told Ruffini, or is it merely what Ruffini supposes?
Moreover, as LifeSiteNews queries, “And why does Pope Francis, who has granted Scalfari several interviews over the years, not himself confirm the brethren in the faith and distance himself from a man who is sowing confusion?” [my emphasis]
Why indeed? It seems we know the answer: that confusion is precisely what Francis intends, and Scalfari is his chosen instrument for spreading it, time and time again.