Pope Francis I – A Christadelphian Lampstand Update
Pope Francis I
“What is it?” said the live TV news anchor as footage of thick white smoke billowed across the screen, “black or white?” Another commentator interjected emphatically: “It’s white. There we have the smoke from the Sistine chapel, and you can hear from the roar of the crowd in the Piazza of St. Peter’s, that it’s white! It’s unequivocally white.”
In just under an hour later, the new Pope emerged onto the balcony and into the living rooms of millions of people around the world via the visual media. More than a hundred thousand people were packed into the piazza to witness the event as Pope Francis raised his hand to greet them. In response, the crowd erupted into deafening screaming, chanting and whistling as flashing cameras turned the black, wet piazza into a sparkling sea of lights. The TV anchor continued… “It’s a global moment—the whole world is here at this moment.”
When news first broke in 2013 that a new Pontiff had been elected, Cardinal Bergoglio was not expected to be a realistic contender. Yet, for whatever reason, he was elected — breaking with tradition to become the first non-European Pope since the 8th Century; the first Pope in the Southern Hemisphere and the Americas; the first Jesuit Pope, and the first Pope to adopt the title ‘Francis’. Indeed, this unprecedented choice for Pope seemed to portend an even more unprecedented tenure, which has played a pivotal role, at a pivotal point in time.
Inside the mind of Pope Francis
So what is inside the mind and world-view of this enigma? To understand Pope Francis, we need to go back to Argentina, where he began his earlier years, immersed in the exclusive traditions of a society established in medieval times—the Jesuits—who were founded to protect and serve the Catholic Church and its Pope. Pope Francis, whose birth name is Jorge Bergoglio, joined the Jesuit order in 1969, gained a philosophy degree at a Jesuit college and taught literature and psychology in Jesuit high schools. Over the next two decades, his profile grew within South American Jesuit circles, leading to him becoming the head of a philosophical and theological faculty of a Jesuit university, and later, a local superior of the Jesuit order. However, despite his early life being immersed in Jesuit culture and institutions, it was during this time that Bergoglio began a journey of theological divergence from traditional Jesuit thinking—a divergence which has its root in the tense relationship between the Jesuits and the Holy See.
Since their inception, the Jesuits have had a volatile relationship with the Holy See which has ranged from papal suppression (1773) to papal suspension of the Jesuit constitution (1980). Today, this tension is most often manifested in theological debates which are no less visceral than papal interventions. The Jesuits tend to embrace theological teachings that are more liberal, academically driven and prevalent in universities. For example, the Jesuits typically question official church teaching and papal directives such as those on abortion, birth control, women deacons, homosexuality and more.
The odd thing about Bergoglio was that as he climbed the Jesuit ranks in Argentina, he didn’t adopt the same traditional Jesuit friction with the Holy See. Instead, he embraced theological views that were often more aligned to the official teachings of the Catholic Church, to the degree that he eventually fell out of favour with the Jesuit leadership. For example, in 1986, Bergoglio was removed as rector of the philosophical and theological faculty of an Argentinian university, because of his policy of educating the young Jesuits in direct pastoral work which opposed the Jesuit trend of emphasising social justice. In 1992, Bergoglio was asked by Jesuit authorities not to reside in Jesuit houses because of continued tensions with Jesuit leaders and scholars over his opposition to a Marxist oriented social justice Christian theology. Such was his orientation towards official Catholic theology, that despite his Jesuit vow to never seek higher office within the church, he broke his vow, took on the role of Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires and began his pre-papal career in the church hierarchy.
The global influence of Pope Francis
Ignatius of Loyola – Founder of the Jesuit Order
This divergent background of Pope Francis was effectively a theological melting pot of liberal and traditional theologies which, today, bubbles over and expresses itself from the ‘throne of St. Peter’. We could consider the many subtle yet powerful ways in which this expression has occurred—like his decision to position the papacy as a church for the poor in the same spirit of the Jesuit mission of poverty; or his efforts to ‘reform’ the papacy just like the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius, had intended. On these matters alone, the Jesuit mission to protect the church, which began half a millennia ago, has resulted in an unintended effect—a church whose leadership is imbued with more liberal and academically driven thinking than usual Catholic teachings, but not quite to the full extent of typically freer Jesuit thinking. This change in papal tone is far more profound than internal change or external posturing; it has real implications that have already begun to divert the course of global history. As this new tone of Roman Catholic thinking permeates the world, a student of prophecy can observe the papacy carving out its predefined apocalyptic identity as the “False Prophet” of the sixth vial in Revelation 16 (spreading false teachings), and “Babylon, the Mother of Harlots” of Revelation 17 (corralling and influencing people and nations around the world). Let’s consider how the Jesuit who sits on the ‘throne of St. Peter’ has shaped and influenced global affairs to that end.
‘Inter-faith dialogue’ is central to the Jesuit mission today, and an important part of the agenda of Pope Francis—much to the horror of conservative Catholics. Over the course of his Pontificate, Pope Francis has met with senior religious figures, including those from the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Evangelists, Mormons, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist religions. As the inter-religious embrace continues, and the ‘mother church’ reaches out to other harlot ‘faiths’, the Jesuit Pope is really carving out the apocalyptic definition of the church: “Mother of Harlots” (Rev 17).
One such historic attempt at inter-faith dialogue happened in February 2016, when Pope Francis reversed 1000 years of church history by meeting with the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus, to improve dialogue between the Catholics and the Russian Orthodox Church. Together, they issued a joint declaration expressing concern for the persecutions of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, and amongst other things, the necessity of Christianity in advancing European integration. Statements like these fall neatly into the acceptable scope of both Russian and European political ambitions; namely, Russia’s vested strategic interest in the Middle East and North Africa, and the European Union’s desire to hold the EU project together in the face of Brexit. As we know, these themes are also very much aligned to prophecy. Russia’s interest in the Middle East and North Africa culminates in the invasion of the king of the north (Ezek 38; Dan 11), and a united Europe, bound by the influence of Roman Catholicism will resist Christ’s demands (the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, held together by iron – Dan 2; Rev 17).
The mutual acknowledgement by the Moscow Patriarch and the Pope of the necessity of Christianity to advance European integration is more than just a current work in progress; it is fast emerging as a reliable solution that will enhance European unity in the future. In May 2017, on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the European Union, the Pope was Europe’s ‘go-to-man’ when he gave a sermon-like-speech to European leaders reminding them of the founding values of the bloc and appealing to them to ‘rethink Europe’.
With European leaders (many of whom were educated in Jesuit institutions) increasingly lending their ears to the Pope, it might seem that papal influence is at its zenith in Europe. However, with impending challenges to European integration, including Brexit, growing political instability and fiscal challenges, Europe is really looking more like a green-field opportunity for papal influence.
Britain, and specifically England, has a history of protestation against Catholicism and it is likely that Britain’s general opposition to deeper European integration has curtailed the influence of Catholicism in the halls of the European Union where Britain has been a significant member. However, with Britain about to leave the European Union, what will papal influence in Europe look like after Brexit? Without Britain, how much more influential will the Vatican’s position on Israel’s ownership of Jerusalem be on the European foreign policy agenda? What about Israel’s right to claim sovereignty over their heartland: Judea and Samaria? What about Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights? Will European Union foreign policy become more aggressive towards Israel under a papacy with less protestant influence or culture? In Revelation 17, the description of papal influence, by the time we reach the seventh vial, is that it is a powerful global and political influencer both in Europe and abroad. So the mutual attempt by the Pope and Patriarch through inter-faith dialogue to advance European integration through Christianity is more than an empty symbolic gesture; it has the potential to be quite the opposite.
Consider a few more implications that arise as a result of the attempt by the Pope and Patriarch at inter-faith dialogue. The attempt to unify Catholicism and Orthodoxy becomes even more impactful when considered in the context of the ancient empires, which each church once dominated: The Roman Catholic Church dominated the Western Roman Empire, and the Orthodox Church dominated the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire). In Daniel 7 an exceedingly dreadful and terrible beast appears in a vision to Daniel, representing a coalition of nations that will arise in the latter days to wage war on the saints. This beast had iron teeth and brazen claws symbolising the re-uniting of the two halves of the ancient Roman Empire: a geopolitical alignment that is already emerging and is enhanced by the support of Catholic and Orthodox unification.
It is significant therefore that we see Pope Francis—the Jesuit Pope—bringing a particular flavour to the church, connecting with religions around the world to project its growing international power and influence. His tenure and approach have not been without significant controversy, but he is succeeding at fulfilling the work and sign of the False Prophet in the sixth vial, and positioning the papacy for the work of the seventh vial.
Why is all this relevant?
Sitting in between the papal vocations of the sixth vial (which we observe today) and seventh vial, is the most significant event of all; the most encouraging sign of the apocalypse—the return of Jesus Christ himself. What a great honour and privilege it is to be living in this time period and to be observing the last sign in Revelation that points to the return of Christ.
Consider this: the time in which we live today would have been the envy of every generation of faithful brothers and sisters over the last two millennia—many of whom were subjected to unimaginable trials and afflictions at the hand of the Roman authorities. Many of them lost family members to torture throughout the ages and found themselves crying out to God each day and night, pleading with Him to send his Son back to the earth and end their pain: “They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’” (Rev 6:10 NIV). While these brothers and sisters now await the resurrection, the moment they so desperately sought for is emerging.
While we have the honour of observing the fulfilment of these signs, let’s not forget that at no other point in the apocalyptic timeline has there ever been such a disparity between the largely untroubled circumstances that we are surrounded by, and the need for us to live our lives with a real sense of urgency. Christ speaks directly to the generations living in our era, and says, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Rev 3:20 NLT). As we watch papal influence grow, are we looking for Christ’s return—at any minute—with the same sense of urgency and desperation as our brothers and sisters in former times?
This Article was written by Michael Hyndman
Reproduced by kind permission of Bro Carl Parry (Editor)