Pope Francis rails against the “intellectual aristocracy”

My, how this pope can rant! This has got to be the best rant of his pontificate thus far. Please do read the whole report at the link. Clearly – reading between the lines – Pope Francis is running into those who are “resisting the Holy Spirit” by presenting reasoned (i.e., “intellectual”) arguments against abolishing the Church’s perennial discipline on divorce, re-marriage, and holy communion. Pharisees and whited sepulchers, the whole lot of ’em!

True faith in Christ is only possible if we open our hearts and show “docility” to the Holy Spirit which inspires “good things” in us. One group which has a tough time reaching this faith are the “intellectuals”. “They always came back to the same point, because they believed that religion was a thing of the mind, of laws.”

“Jesus”, the Pope noted, “has always had problems with them” because they saw it as a question of “fulfilling the commandments and nothing more. They cannot even imagine the existence of the Holy Spirit”. They questioned Jesus, “they wanted to argue. Everything was about the mind, the intellect”. “These people had no heart” he added, “there is no love or beauty, there is no harmony”, these people “only want explanations.”

“And you give them their explanations and, not convinced, they return with more questions. This is their way: they spin round and round … As they spun Jesus around throughout his life, until the time that they were able to take him and kill him! These people do not open their hearts to the Holy Spirit! They believe that the things of God can be understood only with the head, with ideas, with their own ideas. They are proud. They think they know everything. And what does not fit into their intelligence is not true. You can raise a dead man in front of them, but they do not believe.”

… “These people had distanced themselves, they did not believe in the people of God, they only believed in their own things, and thus built a whole system of commandments that chased the people away: they chased people away and would not let them come into the Church, the people. They could not believe! This is the sin of resisting the Holy Spirit”.

Pope Francis concluded: “Two groups of people”, those who are “gentle, sweet people, humble, open to the Holy Spirit”, and the others “proud, self-sufficient, detached from the people, intellectual aristocrats, who closed their doors and resist the Holy Spirit”. “This is not just stubbornness”, he said, “it is much more: it is having a hard heart! And this is more dangerous”. “Let us ask the Lord for the grace of docility to the Holy Spirit to move forward in life, to be creative, to be joyful, because the other people were not joyful”. When “there is a lot of seriousness – he said – the Spirit of God is lacking”. We ask, therefore, “for the grace of obedience and that the Holy Spirit will help us to defend ourselves from this other evil spirit of self-sufficiency, pride, arrogance, closure of the heart to the Holy Spirit”.

One wants to laugh because it’s all so petty and mean and ridiculous, but one also wants to cry, because this is a tragically unhappy man who is fundamentally at war with the Church. And yes, he is our pope. Let’s pray mightily for him. Even more importantly, may Almighty God continue to frustrate his intentions.

23 thoughts on “Pope Francis rails against the “intellectual aristocracy”

  1. Thought your take on Pope Francis rant was right on. I pray for him a couple times a day which doesn’t seem enough. I sent your blog to somewhat well known lady who writes for Magnificat and other places plus writes spiritual books. Her comment as follows: “Yes, continuing prayers for Pope Francis and prayers for the terribly misguided blogger and his/her commentary. I consciously refrain from reading such voices and would ask that you refrain from sending me any further links.”


    • Mr. Dowd, thank you for this comment. I think most orthodox Catholics still don’t know how to react to this pope. I’m not sure I do either. Nevertheless I think it’s important to see clearly and not to deny what is right before one’s eyes. If you correspond with this writer again, please thank her for her prayers.


      • The lady in question cannot bear to hear any criticism of the Pope. I sent her something like this when Pope Francis started speaking out in his unusual fashion after his first magazine interview. She was so disturbed she even devoted a long blog to her outrage about this. I do not plan on sending anything like this again.

        Mike Dowd


  2. Sadly, I must agree with you. The last couple of popes left me envying Catholics, whose faith had such intelligent, eloquent defenders in comparison to the numerous and embarrassingly self-promoting Evangelicals preachers. But with Pope Francis, I pity now rather than envy.

    Claiming to have the Holy Spirit while your opponents does not is most unhealthy, because it leaves no grounds for discussion or even debate. Even Martin Luther, someone not known for his congeniality, conceded that his mind could be changed by “Scripture or clear reason.” Loudly and arrogantly claiming to gentle, sweet and humble also seems most strange.

    When I worked nights on the Hem-Onc unit one of America’s top children’s hospital caring for kids with leukemia, I discovered that I’d accumulated enough experience to sense when one of my patients was in trouble–an intuition roughly akin to claiming the promptings of the Holy Spirit. But I also knew that appealing to what might seem to others like a mere hunch wouldn’t work. Instead, I came up with medical arguments why chemotherapy needed to be halted or a blood test run. I didn’t start a fight. I didn’t try to demonize those who felt differently from me. I persuaded them.

    The same it true for our cultural and spiritual conflicts. We need to present evidence and seek to persuade.

    –Michael W. Perry, My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer


    • “Claiming to have the Holy Spirit while your opponents does not is most unhealthy, because it leaves no grounds for discussion or even debate.”

      I heartily agree, Mr. Perry. While there is a place for this kind of talk, it is certainly inappropriate for a pope attempting to persuade Catholics to accept the kind of earth-shaking changes he wants to impose. In reality he makes no attempt to persuade by reasoned argument whatsoever.


  3. I always laugh at people who elevate the “heart” as some source of “love, beauty” etc. as opposed to the “mind”. The “heart” is nothing more than a muscle for pumping blood. The reality is that all of it – beauty, love, emotions – do, in fact, come from the mind.


  4. Did you stop to consider before publicly posting that Pope Francis is “a tragically unhappy man who is fundamentally at war with the Church” and your prayer that “Almighty God [should] continue to frustrate his intentions” that Pope Francis may not have had in mind any veiled insinuations against anyone, but is simply discussing disordered human tendencies and sinful behavior that can afflict anyone? Did you consider that you are reading into the Pope’s words a critique of your own agenda, which may not be something the Pope intended to address? Frankly, Jeff, it seems to me that you have projected onto the Pope your own state vis-à-vis the Church and Christ’s Vicar.

    Continue on this path and I predict that you will be a Protestant again in fact, if not in name, within two years.


  5. I read that observation by Jeff and totally agreed with him and I’m a cradle Catholic. I hope Jeff doesn’t go back to Protestantism because outside of the Catholic Church, there is no salvation. I doubt he will though. To criticize does not mean to abandon.


      • Of course, if you did revert to Protestantism, the Holy Father would probably look upon you with a much more benign eye than he would as things stand. Lord have mercy.


    • “To criticize does not mean to abandon.”

      Exactly right. I have been musing lately about the common tendency among many modern neo-conservative Catholics to glorify the pope as if he were necessarily some sort of divinely-inspired prophet, just because he is pope. But nothing about being Catholic requires us to do anything of the sort. Certainly we want to be faithful to the pope, and certainly we want to learn from him. But it was never a Catholic principle – until recently, apparently – that the pope should have his own sort of cult surrounding him. The pope, like everyone else, is a human being, susceptible to error and not beyond criticism, except when he speaks ex cathedra.


  6. I find your comments interesting, as usual, Jeff. I am not comfortably with some of what I think you are implying, but that again is my comfort zone. You are always charitable in your critical comments, and that is much to be admired. I did read the article as you suggested and it is prompting me to respond with just one comment. If the quotation marks are to be understood correctly from the article’s sub-headline, the Pope said “some intellectuals …. ” and from this, I include he is referring to exactly that, SOME intellectuals. I’m sure he must have had particular people in mind when making his comments and I think it would be an act of generosity on our part to assume that he did not mean ALL intellectuals. I can’t imagine that he’s criticizing the entire intellectual community. One other thing, in considering Jesus’ behavior in the bible, I see that He was willing to speak to Nicodemus, who must have been considered an “intellectual” as well as a member of the Jewish religious elite. Jesus took time to speak with him and I consider that a not just an attempt to speak to him intellectually, but a real “heart to heart” moment as well. Just my thoughts and thank you for allowing me to share.


    • Thank you for your comment, Janice. I know the message is difficult. Also, I suppose I should concede the possibility of being wrong in my interpretation of Pope Francis. There is a strong tendency in some circles – especially in the Protestant circles that Pope Francis is fond of (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehFpeVGLyxs ) – to use “intellectual” as a pejorative. I assume from both the context of the remarks and the pope’s associations that he is using the term in the same way. But even if he isn’t, it’s still clear to me that he sees an “intellectual aristocracy” as creating obstacles to his intentions for the October Synod. This is a very big priority for him. Good point about Jesus and Nicodemus. Certainly the Gospel touches the heart! But you might say that the mind needs to be anchored in truth when the heart is weak.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s