One of the more remarkable aspects of Francis’ pontificate has been his rhetorical style. Whereas Benedict XVI generally spoke in carefully crafted Latin paragraphs, Pope Francis has adopted a more casual style of Italian—-often speaking without prepared notes. Most notable of all, Francis has gone about coining striking phrases that capture spiritual concepts in contemporary terms.
Archbishop Claudio Celli, head of the Vaticans Council for Social Communication says that Francis uses images to “communicate concepts that people can perceive immediately.” According to Celli, Francis is ”helping us to rediscover that communication is not only an intellectual problem.”
Vatican observer Rocco Palmo cites an article in article in Avvenire by Stefania Falasca that compared Francis’ rhetoric to sermo humilis —-the simple Latin by which the church once spoke to the ordinary man. Falasca also connects Francis rhetoric to “pastiche.” This, says, Falasca, “is precisely the juxtaposition of words of different levels or different registers with expressive effect. The ‘pastiche’ style is today a typical feature of communication on the web and of postmodern language. This is therefore a matter of linguistic associations unprecedented in the history of the Petrine magisterium.”
Here, then, is an early document of some of Pope Francis’ more notable phrases:
March 14 : We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord.”
“Apostle of Babel”
March 15 : “He, the Paraclete, is the ultimate source of every initiative and manifestation of faith. It is a curious thing: it makes me think of this. The Paraclete creates all the differences among the Churches, almost as if he were an Apostle of Babel. But on the other hand, it is he who creates unity from these differences, not in ‘equality,’ but in harmony. I remember the Father of the Church who described him thus: ’ Ipse harmonia est . The Paraclete, who gives different charisms to each of us, unites us in this community of the Church, that worships the Father, the Son, and Him, the Holy Spirit.”
“Odor of sheep”
March 28 : This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad—-sad priests—-in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep.’ This I ask you: be shepherds, with the ‘odor of the sheep,’ make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.
April 3 : “Unfortunately, efforts have often been made to blur faith in the Resurrection of Jesus and doubts have crept in, even among believers. It is a little like that ‘rosewater’ faith, as we say; it is not a strong faith. And this is due to superficiality and sometimes to indifference, busy as we are with a thousand things considered more important than faith, or because we have a view of life that is solely horizontal.”
Middle class of holiness
April 14 : In Gods great plan, every detail is important, even yours, even my humble little witness, even the hidden witness of those who live their faith with simplicity in everyday family relationships, work relationships, friendships. There are the saints of every day, the ‘hidden’ saints, a sort of ‘middle class of holiness’ to which we can all belong.”
April 17 : “When we do this [announce Jesus with our lives], the Church becomes a mother Church that bears children . . . But when we don’t do it, the Church becomes not a mother but a babysitter church, which takes care of the child to put him to sleep.”
April 18 : “We believe in God who is Father, who is Son, who is Holy Spirit . . . . We believe in persons and when we talk to God we speak with persons who are concrete and tangible, not some misty, diffused god-like ‘god-spray,’ that’s a little bit everywhere but who knows what it is.”
April 20 : “[Some Christians] are not rooted in the Church, do not walk in God’s presence, they do not have the comfort of the Holy Spirit, do not build up the Church. They are Christians of good sense, only they distance themselves from Jesus. They are, so to speak—-satellites,’ who have a small tailormade church, in their own measure: using Jesus’s words in the Apocalypse they are ‘lukewarm Christians.’ This lukewarmness makes its way into the Church. They walk following only their good sense, common sense, a sort of mundane prudence; that very mundane prudence which represents temptation.”
“Identity card” Christianity
April 23 : “Christian identity is not an identity card. Christian identity means being a member of the Church, since all these people belonged to the Church, to Mother Church, for apart from the Church it is not possible to find Jesus. The great Paul VI said: it is an absurd dichotomy to wish to live with Jesus but without the Church, to follow Jesus but without the Church, to love Jesus but without the Church (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi , 16). And that Mother Church who gives us Jesus also gives us an identity which is not simply a rubber stamp: it is membership. Identity means membership, belonging. Belonging to the Church: this is beautiful!”
“No Church” vs. “Yes Church”
May 2 : There was a No Church that said, ‘you cannot; no, no, you must not’ and a Yes Church that said, but . . . lets think about it, lets be open to this, the Spirit is opening the door to us.
Teenagers for life”
May 4 : Dear brothers and sisters, how hard it is, in our time, to make the ultimate decisions! The temporary seduces us. We are victims of a trend that pushes us to the temporary . . . as if we wanted to stay teenagers for life! We should not be afraid of the agreed commitments, commitments that involve and affect the whole life! In this way, our lives will be fruitful!
May 7 : A Christian who constantly complains, fails to be a good Christian: they become Mr. or Mrs. Whiner, no? Because they always complain about everything, right? Silence in endurance, silence in patience. That silence of Jesus.”
May 10 : “If we keep this joy to ourselves it will make us sick in the end, our hearts will grow old and wrinkled and our faces will no longer transmit that great joy—-only nostalgia, melancholy which is not healthy. Sometimes these melancholy Christians faces have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life. Joy cannot be held at heel: it must be let go. Joy is a pilgrim virtue. It is a gift that walks.”
However wistfully we may recall Benedict’s carefully composed pronouncements, there can be no doubt that Francis is a great rhetorician of a different—-and no doubt more broadly accessible—-kind.