Why is Pope Francis’ recently published Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel, causing such interest and excitement far beyond the confines of the Catholic church? What new possibilities does it offer to those engaged in the search for full, visible Christian unity? And can it really usher in a new era of ecumenical springtime, half a century on from the innovations of the Second Vatican Council?
Hitchen put these questions to theologian and author Gerard Mannion,
who currently holds the Amaturo Chair in Catholic Studies at Georgetown
University. He’s also the founder of a group known as the
Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network, which
promotes scholarship and dialogue across the broad spectrum of Christian
traditions. Mannion begins by sharing his enthusiasm for the innovative
qualities of this ground-breaking papal document.
pope has their own distinctive style, going right back through the
centuries, […] and this is a very distinctive and engaging style. And
that’s one of the reasons everybody’s talking about this document – not
just theologians, not even just Catholics, and not even just people of a
religious persuasion. There have been other popes who’ve sought to
stamp their own particular shape and form on their teaching style, […]
but with Francis it’s even more personal. He uses the first person,
which is innovative. One of the other things is, this document is full
of humour: he uses humour to good effect, to make serious points, and
also to disarm polarisation, not just within the Church, but within the
world as well. And it’s impassioned! And the other personal dimension is
he lays bare his own soul in it as well, he talks about his own moments
of pessimism, […] so he shares his own journey with the people he’s
trying to speak to in this document.
He draws upon not just his
predecessors, he also draws upon teaching documents from various
bishops’ conferences around the world, and that’s very significant as
well. He also will allude to particular saints and the examples of their
life, the lives of the poor, popular piety and the lessons it has for
us – he even quotes Plato in one part! […] This document is a radical
document, it’s not in any sense slavishly following the interpretation,
the agenda, of any of his predecessors. In fact in many ways you could
say it’s turning around the emphasis from many previous documents and
teachings to one that’s more engaged, one that’s more praxis-oriented,
and one that’s more centred upon compassion at the heart of the Gospel.
[…] And that’s why people are reading a papal document who normally
wouldn’t even bother to read a news story about a new papal document.
many ways, actually, there are certain dimensions to this document
which are more truly conservative, in the sense that he’s getting back
to the basics of the Gospel. […] If you like, there is a dimension of
continuity here, but it’s continuity that picks up really important
things that the Church has been trying to grapple with for a long time,
and it picks them up in a constructive way.
The ecumenical and
interfaith agenda within this document is enormously important and
enormously positive. There are certain sections that directly address
this, but in many respects it’s addressed through all the sections: […]
it’s when he talks about inculturation, it’s when he talks about respect
for the other, it’s when he talks about the things what unites people,
rather than divide them.”