The Pope’s First Commandment Problem

“I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.” – Exodus 20:1-3

“Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.” – Matthew 22:36-40

It’s official: Pope Francis has a problem with the First Commandment.

The first sign was his homily on July 3, 2013, in which he said that knowledge of Jesus Christ cannot be arrived at through “meditation”, which in his words is the “path of the gnostics”. Meditation – which might also be called contemplation or adoration – is a work that is focused on God alone, and has been the vehicle for countless saints in their ascent to God. According to the pope, one can only find Jesus through “His wounds … [in] the body of your wounded brother” – that is, through loving one’s neighbor.

The second sign was his bold inversion of the commandments as given to us by Jesus. In his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (par 161), the pope stated that the “first and greatest of the commandments” is to “love one another”, which of course is contrary to the words of Our Lord in Sacred Scripture. This mistake is so obvious and fundamental that I expected it to be corrected eventually. But, alas, eleven months later it’s still there in the document. As every Catholic schoolboy has been taught, the first and greatest commandment is “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind”. Jesus could hardly have taught otherwise, as the First Commandment of the Decalogue imposes this primary obligation upon all believers.

The revolutionary nature of this error cannot be overstated. It undermines the Church’s entire theology. There are, after all, Christian duties that are prior to love of neighbor. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that adherence to the First Commandment – which derives from the love of God – demands sacrifice, worship, and adoration; the assent of faith to all that God has revealed; obedience to the divine and natural law; and public witness to divine truth. The Catechism states clearly that “adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion” and is directed to God alone. The First Commandment also forbids sins like idolatry, witchcraft, superstition, blasphemy, sacrilege, heresy, schism, apostasy, atheism, agnosticism, voluntary doubt, religious indifference, despair, and presumption. Whereas obedience to the commandment to love God results naturally in the love of neighbor, the same cannot be said of the reverse. The love of God is the necessary foundation for properly loving one’s neighbor.

And now we have more confusion on the matter from Pope Francis. It’s simply not credible to say that his previous statements were just careless “off the cuff” musings, mistranslations, or media spin. No, Pope Francis has a real problem with the First Commandment. In yesterday’s Angelus the pope chose a different approach. Rather than ignore the first and greatest commandment altogether, as he has done in the past, he chose to present the first and greatest commandment (i.e., the love of man for God), and the second which is like unto it (i.e., the love of man for neighbor), as though they are totally merged without hierarchy or distinction, as though one did not have priority over the other. It is the error of false equivalence. The practical effect is the same as before: seek God in your neighbor first, to the exclusion of divinely revealed truth (doctrine) and the demands it imposes. Vatican Insider/La Stampa reports:

“In the midst of the dense forest of rules and regulations – the legalisms of yesterday and today – Jesus shines a ray of light that helps us to make out two faces: the face of the Father and that of our brother,” Pope Francis said at today’s Angelus. “Today’s Gospel reminds us that the whole law of God is summed up in love for God and neighbour.” The “novelty” of Christ’s teaching consists “in the union of the two commandments – love of God and love of neighbour – proving that they are inseparable and complementary, they are two sides of the same coin.” …

“Remember this: love is the measure of faith,” Francis said speaking off the cuff. “How much do you love? What is your faith like? I believe as much as I love.” “A visible sign that the Christian can show to witness God’s love to the world and to others, to his family, is the love of his brethren,” Francis observed. This is why, he explained, “the commandment of love of God and neighbour is the first, because it is not high on the list of the commandments. Jesus does not put it at the top, but at the center, it is the heart from which everything eradicates and to which everything returns.”

Ah, so the two commandments are now merged as one! And this new merged commandment of Francis is not even “high on the list of commandments” or “at the top” – that’s too hierarchical, too much like the old scholasticism, I suppose – but “at the center”, whatever that means. Are the commandments are now arranged in a circle? And aren’t we supposed to start with the existential peripheries? Nevermind …

21 thoughts on “The Pope’s First Commandment Problem

  1. I’m glad to see you blogged about this. I nearly posted about it (on Facebook), but have been trying not to let him get my goat these days. Still… what verbal gerrymandering is this? “The commandment of love to God and neighbor is the first not because it is the first in the list of commandment [sic]. Jesus does not place it in the top, but at the center because it is the heart from which everything has to start and from which everyone must return to and reference,” he said. (

    Translation errors?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “In the midst of the dense forest of rules and regulations – the legalisms of yesterday and today – Jesus shines a ray of light that helps us to make out two faces: the face of the Father and that of our brother,”

    John 14:23

    It is even worse than it seems for Our Pope and Our Cross is pitting Jesus against Himself for in Jesus love and law are cleaved in union whereas for Francis, law is cleaved from Love.

    The great divorce of law from love is not of Catholic Tradition nor is it even defensible but Hurricane Francis creates chaos far too often.

    M.J. prays for Our Pope and Our Cross for he is trying to change the Kingdom by pitting it against itself and that would result in a fallen kingdom and if he thinks Jesus will stand for that, he has another very profound truth he soon coming that he will have to deal with.

    Jesus will not let Francis destroy His church. If this keeps up, it is ineluctable that God’s providence will be withdrawn and Francis will die in office before he promulgates error.

    Pray for Our Pope and Our Cross, he is tempting Christ

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Excellent. Just excellent. It is so easy to be schmoozed by Francis’s words. They sound so…well…loving. You have been graced with a keen gift of discernment, Jeff. Keep it up. You have articulated Scriptural truth well.


    • Yes, Francis’ words are soothing to many, and for that reason are all the more dangerous. Thank you for the kind words, Gina, but I don’t have any special insights – just basic reading/listening comprehension. For some reason the multitudes, who have the same ability, often turn it off when this pope communicates.


  4. My thoughts, precisely!
    The ‘dense forest of rules and regulations’ is not something that we should fear or ignore. There is a narrow path through it and we have a leader whom we follow. Even in the Ten Commandments the love of God comes first. If we go back to Eden we will find that the first parents were asked to stay away from the forbidden fruit if they wanted to maintain their loving relationship with God.


  5. A very important comment on one of this Pope’s more egregious errors, which are coming so thick and fast that it is easy to overlook them.

    I note that the Vatican Radio news service has taken to providing brackets and quotation marks to show where the Pope is departing from prepared texts, an easy way to identify where the errors are likely to crop up. Today’s audience address provides a good example:

    [Moving from the prepared text] “Often, we hear people say: the Church doesn’t do this …the Church doesn’t do that!’ ‘Tell me
    who is the Church? – ‘Well the Church is the priests, the bishops, the Pope …’ We are all the Church! All of us all of us
    Baptized! We are the Church, the Church of Jesus’”.

    There he goes again, busily attacking the foundations of discipline in the Church. We must not have a Church that says you can’t do something. You know, like admitting public adulterers to Holy Communion, as Francis did when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. For quite a while I was willing to work with a charitable interpretation of his typically off the cuff, off the wall (or is that “out of his gourd”?) comments: that he was being intentionally sloppy, intentionally provocative of debate, or intentionally attacking precision to encourage other responses than that of “be careful how you phrase that.”

    It’s beyond that, I think, at this point. This pope seems to be incredibly narrow-minded and narrow-hearted: being a man of the active apostolate, he seems to have simply NO CAPACITY to appreciate the life of the contempative. So there goes St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, etc. He also seems to have absolute no capacity to appreciate someone who cares about the particulars of divine worship, hence his very clearly pejorative comments about those who love the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. So much, then, for St. Gregory the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope St. Pius V, etc. This pope seems to have no patience for rules of any form, which means that he is unable to “connect” with people who grow into love of God precisely through learning to love the Law of God, just as the psalm says (119). Which all means that, as much as he wants to extend love and concern and good wishes and empathy for “all God’s people”, he only has a subset in mind, shunting a large portion of God’s people out of the way to focus on his chosen subset, the ones who don’t like rules any more than he does.

    In fact, it is impossible to correctly love neighbor unless that love flows out of prior, higher, deeper, more rooted love of God. It is your connection to God in charity, perfected in union with Him and His will (including His will expressed in Commandments, Church laws, and principles of the moral law) that is what enables you to even have love for your neighbor – a love that pulls your neighbor into God’s love. We are not asked to love God and neighbor indistinguishably, the Great Commandment does not tell us to love our neighbor “with our whole mind…” This is because we cannot at one and the same time give our love to any creature with our whole mind and soul and heart and also give it to God the creator, for there is a vast gulf between loving He Who Is of his own nature, and loving a dependent creature.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I believe firmly that Francis is a tireless provocateur. His modus operandi is becoming clearer by the hour: say, proclaim whatever demoralizes orthodox Catholics and create chaos in the Church. If I am right, he then is an enemy of the Faith and diabolical. I have known for most of my life the Latin American clergy in Miami, where I grew up, and he is too typical of them: radical, revolutionary, quasi-Marxist, and generally very unplesant, unkind people perennially blathering about “the brothers” and charity, but practicing none. When a colleague of mine at the university where I teach told me at the time of the conclave who had been elected my blood curdled—and my horror is confirmed on a daily basis. Robert Carballo, Lancaster, PA

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am so grateful for this explanation. When I heard Pope Francis say some of the things mentioned above, I was disturbed in my spirit, but I couldn’t explain to myself the nature of the errors. I feel it is not even safe for me to listen to him. God help us.


  9. Translation problems?? For nearly everything that proceeds from his mouth?? Wake up and smell the heresy. New conclave, please.


  10. Very nice but what about when the “magisterium” leaves the faith. Am I “schismatic” if I adhere to constant catholic teaching and reject the heretical weirdness of late? I believe it is Catholic teaching that the shepherds who attempt to drive the sheep off a cliff automatically lose their offices. 18 months of Bergoglio and I cannot follow him anymore. The faithful, if the cardinals are too corrupt, must rise up and drive this phony from Rome and the sooner the better. And the cardinals who are corrupt and heretical need to go with him. They can get together and name their new religion anything they like but they must be driven from the vatican.


  11. Pingback: Please don’t quote Pope Francis in your homilies « New Sherwood

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