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Francis and Francis. Two revolutions, or only one?

di Franco Cardini
Francis and Francis. Two revolutions, or only one?

There was a time, not too far away, when there were so many ways to be called Christian. Of course, today differences exist and you cannot pretend that belonging to different confessions is something trivial. However, there is no doubt that today what counts is belonging to a religious faith: and those who have one end up feeling more supportive of anyone who does not, even beyond linguistic or cultural differences or other kinds that can be very deep.

  Moreover, that deep and complex phenomenon we call "religion" responds to complex myth-socio-cultural-anthropological groups that sometimes have very little in common with each other:  it’s not sufficient to generally refer to oneself as a “believer” in "God" or "in the Divine", or "in Something".  Indeed, what in the eighteenth century was referred to as "theism" ends up being more like an atheism that does not dare admit it, rather than a religious faith. For us who have accepted the Covenant between God and Abraham, God is the Almighty Creator and Lord of all things, immensely just and merciful at the same time.

But this common faith is not enough. If Judaism is the religion of a Law, the Torah, and Islam the religion of the Holy Scriptures, the Koran, Christianity is the religion of a Man: A True Man who is also true God. I believe that all three Abrahamic religions are similarly close to God: but undoubtedly Christianity is immeasurably closer to man than the other two. 

Francis of Assisi understood all this perfectly and completely at the beginning of the thirteenth century, when the faith in Christ was still mostly Old Testament and apocalyptic, when the Gospel had relatively little space and in churches, Eastern and Western Christianity worshipped primarily, if not exclusively, the Christus Triumphans, royal and impassive victor: "the God of cathedrals, white and manly: a King, Son of Kings", as he was described in the thirties of the last century by a great French novelist, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle . But after Francis that God changed, he became primarily the Christus Patiens, that sees man as his children true, but also and above all brothers, who knows their sufferings, who accepts to suffer like and even more than them for their love.

To reach that Christ, there was no need after all for Protestant Reformation, the attention of the faithful on the issues of Free Examination of the Scriptures and of Free Choice.  We should have proceeded on the the road to Francis, increasingly discovering the sense of God’s boundless love for man: and in the light of this, understand that man’s response cannot be only a boundless love of God, but also for his neighbor as himself.  Because Christ is God, but our neighbor is Christ for each of us.

While Christianity was powerful in the world, the mistress of royalty and commoners, there were probably many ways to be a Christian: every time I read the "Tale of the Grand Inquisitor" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky I am again convinced that what the Grand Inquisitor professed was true Christianity. But on condition that it was within a Christian society.

Today there are Christians, and maybe they are many: but Christianity no longer exists. There is no longer a society in which the state, laws, science, art, morals conform to the Christian faith.  As long as the faithful lived in a society that conformed to his religious principles, he could choose to direct his faith in many ways. Today it is no longer possible: the road has become narrow and the two revolutions, that of Brother Francis and that of Pope Francis, converge. The Christian sees himself reduced to the essential: if he wants to be who he is, must act with steely determination. The struggle of the Christian passes through the underprivileged suburbs of the world, it passes through the rubber dinghies on the Mediterranean, passing through the impoverishment desolation of Africa and Latin America. Christian struggle is that against all that Pope Francis called "the culture of indifference". In this struggle, we are all in the front row: and there are no excuses, no diversions.

Franco Cardini
Professore ordinario di storia medievale presso l'Università di Firenze

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