When a child reaches the age of questioning, and asks his parents to explain who God is, the answer is always that God is a perfect Being, Almighty, the One who governs all creation with wisdom and guides all so as to take them to Heaven, His eternal and marvelous house. These answers are accepted with complete naturality by those who have received the gift of faith at Baptism. This true to such an extent that without entering into theological details, certain pronouncements about this very same faith sound strange to the ears of a Catholic.
Beyond what a child is capable of understanding in its simplicity, are the dogmas that concern the Divine Essence. To understand these in a way other than what the Church teaches is to wander along dangerous paths; and to teach them in a confused manner could well be a very great pastoral error.
[Francis] “It has almost never been this way. Very often, the Church as an institution was dominated by temporalism and many members and high-ranking Catholic leaders still hold these sentiments. But now allow me ask you a question: you, as a secular layman who doesn’t believe in God, what do you believe in? You are a writer and a man of thought. Surely you believe in something; you must have some overarching value. Don’t answer me with words like honesty, searching, or the vision of the common good; these are all important principles and values, but this is not what I am asking you. I am asking you what you think about the essence of the world, and indeed of the universe. Surely you ask yourself, as everyone does, who are we, where do we come from, where are we going. Even a child asks himself these questions. And you?”.
[Scalfari] I thank you for this question. The answer is: I believe in Being, i.e. in the fabric from which the forms, Beings, emerge.
[Francis] “And I believe in God. Not in a Catholic God; a Catholic God doesn’t exist. God exists. And I believe in Jesus Christ, in his Incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my shepherd, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.Does it seem to you that we are so far apart?”.
[Scalfari] We are far apart in our thinking but similar as human beings, who are unconsciously animated by our instincts which are then transformed into impulses, feelings, desires, thought and reason. In this we are similar.
[Francis] “But would you like to explain what you mean by what you call Being?”
[Scalfari] Being is the fabric of energy. Energy is chaotic but indestructible and in eternal chaos. From that energy forms emerge when energy reaches the point of explosion. Forms have their laws, magnetic fields and chemical elements which randomly combine, evolve and finally are dissolve, but their energy is not destroyed. Man is probably the only animal endowed with reason, at least on our planet and in this solar system. I said that he is animated by instincts and desires but I would add that he also holds within himself a resonance, an echo, a vocation to chaos.
[Francis] “All right. I didn’t want you to give me a compendium of your philosophy and what you’ve told me suffices. For my part, I would observe that God is the light that illumines the darkness even if he does not dispel it, and that a spark of that divine light is within each one of us. In the letter I wrote to you I recall having said that our species, too, will end but that the light of God will never end. At that point, this light will flood all souls and all will be in all”.
[Scalfari] Yes, I remember it well, you said, “all the light will be in all souls” which — if I may say so, it gives me more the impression of imminence than of transcendence.
[Francis] “Transcendence remainsbecausethat light, the all in all, transcends the universe and the species that will then inhabit it. But let’s return to the present. We’ve taken a step forward in our dialogue. We have noted that in the society and the world in which we live selfishness has increased far more than love for others has and that people of good will must work, each according to his own strength and expertise, to make love for others increase until it equals and possibly surpasses love of self. (Interview with Eugenio Scalfari, October 1, 2013)
Note 1: The authors of this study are aware that the Vatican Press Office has denied the interpretations that some media sources have attributed to certain affirmations contained in the interviews of Francis with Eugenio Scalfari. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that some of these sources are still published on the Vatican website (found by clicking on the links of the articles), lending an official air to their content, seemingly with the approval of Francis himself. In the midst of all the turmoil and confusion caused, we always feel that a presentation of the true doctrine should be made with clarity, together with such affirmations. We must not forget that the majority of the public read only the titles that the media publishes, and, as we know, the latter frequently manipulate the truth. Consequently, it appears that a mere declaration that the content of these interviews does not correspond with the textual words of Francis, is simply not sufficient. As such, we publish this article with the intention of clarifying and orienting the faithful, who have always been the principle objective of this page, as we expressed in our letter of presentation. In this way, each one can make a correct judgment, having beforehand attained knowledge of the truth.
Enter the various parts of our study
[Condemned:] No supreme, all wise, and all provident divine Godhead exists, distinct from this world of things, and God is the same as the nature of things and, therefore, liable to changes; and God comes into being in man and in the universe, and all things are God and they have the same substance of God; and God is one and the same as the world, and therefore, also, spirit is one and the same with matter, necessity with liberty, the true with the false, the good with the evil, and the just with the unjust. (Denzinger-Hünermann 2901. Pius IX. Syllabus, December 8, 1864)
[Against pantheism]: If anyone shall say that one and the same thing is the substance or essence of God and of all things: let him be anathema.
[Against special forms of pantheism]: If anyone shall say that finite things, both corporeal and spiritual, or at least the spiritual, have emanated from the divine substance, or, that the divine essence by a manifestation or evolution of itself becomes all things, or, finally, that God is universal or indefinite being, because by determining Himself, He created all things distinct in genera, in species, and in individuals: let him be anathema. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3023-3024. Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, April 24, 1870)
[The one, living, and true God and His distinction from all things] The holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church believes and confesses that there is one, true, living God, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will, and in every perfection; who, although He is one, singular, altogether simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, must be proclaimed distinct in reality and essence from the world; most blessed in Himself and of Himself, and ineffably most high above all things which are or can be conceived outside Himself [can. 1-4]. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3001. Vatican Council I. Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, April 24, 1870)
And thus, Venerable Brethren, the road is open for us to study the Modernists in the theological arena – a difficult task, yet one that may be disposed of briefly. The end to be attained is the conciliation of faith with science, always, however, saving the primacy of science over faith. In this branch the Modernist theologian avails himself of exactly the same principles which we have seen employed by the Modernist philosopher, and applies them to the believer: the principles of immanence and symbolism. The process is an extremely simple one. The philosopher has declared: The principle of faith is immanent; the believer has added: This principle is God; and the theologian draws the conclusion: God is immanent in man. Thus we have theological immanence. So too, the philosopher regards as certain that the representations of the object of faith are merely symbolical; the believer has affirmed that the object of faith is God in Himself; and the theologian proceeds to affirm that: The representations of the divine reality are symbolical. And thus we have theological symbolism. Truly enormous errors both, the pernicious character of which will be seen clearly from an examination of their consequences. […] Concerning immanence it is not easy to determine what Modernists mean by it, for their own opinions on the subject vary. Some understand it in the sense that God working in man is more intimately present in him than man is in even himself, and this conception, if properly understood, is free from reproach. Others hold that the divine action is one with the action of nature, as the action of the first cause is one with the action of the secondary cause, and this would destroy the supernatural order. Others, finally, explain it in a way which savours of pantheism and this, in truth, is the sense which tallies best with the rest of their doctrines. (Pius X, Encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis no.19, September 8, 1907)
And to Pantheism that other doctrine of the divine immanence leads directly. For does it, We ask, leave God distinct from man or not? If yes, in what does it differ from Catholic doctrine, and why reject external revelation? If no, we are at once in Pantheism. Now the doctrine of immanence in the Modernist acceptation holds and professes that every phenomenon of conscience proceeds from man as man. The rigorous conclusion from this is the identity of man with God, which means Pantheism. (Pius X, Encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis no.39, September 8, 1907)
Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely. […] Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact-one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history-the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. (Pius X. Motu proprio Sacrorum antistitum, September 1, 1910)
In the end, the word of God poses the problem of the meaning of life and proffers its response in directing the human being to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, who is the perfect realization of human existence. A reading of the sacred text would reveal other aspects of this problem; but what emerges clearly is the rejection of all forms of relativism, materialism and pantheism. (John Paul II, Encyclical Fides et ratio, no. 80, September 14, 1998)
The new religiosity is an adherence to a God that often has no face nor personal characteristics. Questioned about God, both declared believers and declared non-believers affirm that they believe in the existence of a force or superior transcendent being, but who has no personal attributes, much less those of a Father. The fascination of oriental religions, transplanted into the West, resides in the depersonalisation of God. In scientific circles, the old atheistic materialism is giving way to the return of pantheism, where the universe itself is divine: Deus sive natura sive res.
The Christian proposal is based, however, on the revelation of the God-in-three-persons, in the image of Whom each person is called to live in communion. Faith in the tri-personal God is the basis of the whole Christian faith and also of the constitution of an authentically human society. (Pontifical Council for Culture. Concluding document: Where is Your God? Responding to the Challenge of Unbelief and Religious Indifference Today. March 13, 2004)
[Condemned Error:] We are transformed entirely in God, and we are changed into Him; in a similar manner as in the sacrament the bread is changed into the body of Christ; so I am changed into Him because He Himself makes me to be one with Him, not like (to Him); through the living God it is true that there is no distinction there. (Denzinger-Hünermann 960. Error of Eckhart condemned by John XXII in the Constitution In agro dominico, March 27, 1329)
[Condemned Error:] By doing nothing the soul annihilates itself and returns to its beginning and to its origin, which is the essence of God, in which it remains transformed and divinized, and God then remains in Himself, because then the two things are no more united, but are one alone, and in this manner God lives and reigns in us, and the soul annihilates itself in operative being. (Denzinger-Hünermann 2205. Errors of Miguel Molinos in the Constitution Coelestis Pastor by Innocence XI, Nov. 20, 1687)
Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature (Mk. 16:15) to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church. Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission. This it intends to do following faithfully the teaching of previous councils. The present-day conditions of the world add greater urgency to this work of the Church so that all men, joined more closely today by various social, technical and cultural ties, might also attain fuller unity in Christ. (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium n.1, November 21, 1964)
The Church’s universal mission is born from the command of Jesus Christ and is fulfilled in the course of the centuries in the proclamation of the mystery of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the mystery of the incarnation of the Son, as saving event for all humanity. The fundamental contents of the profession of the Christian faith are expressed thus: “I believe in one God, the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made (I Council of Constantinople, symbolum constantinopolitanum: DS 150).” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Declaration Dominus Iesus, no. 1)
Such syntheses are called ‘professions of faith’ since they summarize the faith that Christians profess. They are called ‘creeds’ on account of what is usually their first word in Latin: credo (‘I believe’). They are also called ‘symbols of faith’. The Greek word symbolon meant half of a broken object, for example, a seal presented as a token of recognition. The broken parts were placed together to verify the bearer’s identity. The symbol of faith, then, is a sign of recognition and communion between believers. Symbolon also means a gathering, collection or summary. A symbol of faith is a summary of the principal truths of the faith and therefore serves as the first and fundamental point of reference for catechesis. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 187-188)
To believe that the Church is ‘holy’ and ‘catholic,’ and that she is ‘one’ and ‘apostolic’ (as the Nicene Creed adds), is inseparable from belief in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the Apostles’ Creed we profess ‘one Holy Church’ (Credo . . . Ecclesiam), and not to believe in the Church, so as not to confuse God with his works and to attribute clearly to God’s goodness all the gifts he has bestowed on his Church (cf. Roman Catechism I,10,22). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 750)
Supplement to better grasp this subject
It is not only necessary for Christians to believe in one God who is the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things; but also they must believe that God is the Father and that Christ is the true Son of God. […] in the [Nicene] Creed of the Fathers it is said: “God of God; Light of Light,” that is, we are to believe in God the Son from God the Father, and the Son who is Light from the Father who is Light. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Apostles’ Creed, a. 2)
We must believe that Christ is the Only-begotten of God, and the true Son of God, who always was with the Father, and that there is one Person of the Son and another of the Father who have the same divine nature. All this we believe now through faith, but we shall know it with a perfect vision in the life eternal. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Apostles’ Creed, a. 2)
God is not the formal being of all things. We are now able to refute the error of certain persons who said that God is nothing other than the formal being of each thing. […] A fourth factor that could have led them to their error is the mode of expression we use when we say that God is in all things. By this we do not mean that God is in things as a part of a thing, but as the cause of a thing that is never lacking to its effect. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa contra Gentiles, Bk. I, ch. 26, no. 13)
As befits a Christian philosopher and theologian, St. Thomas sees in every being a participation in the absolute Being Which creates, sustains and activates from above the whole of created reality, all life, every thought and every act of faith. On the basis of these principles Aquinas exalts human reason and thereby provides the student of theology with a powerful aid. At the same time he makes it possible to penetrate and gain a deep understanding of numerous truths which he himself quickly grasped with his sharp mind. The same may be said of Thomas’s positions on the transcendental properties and analogy of being; the structure of finite being as composed of essence and existence; the relation between created realities and the divine Being; the causal role of created beings which depends dynamically on the causality exercised by God; the full ontological reality of the activity of finite beings, a reality which affects all parts of philosophy and of doctrinal, moral and ascetical theology; the organic structure and finality of the whole created order. If we raise our eyes to the realm of divine truth itself, we must say the same of Thomas’s positions with regard to the notion of God as subsistent Being whose hidden interior life is made known to us through revelation; the defense of divine transcendence against every form of pantheism; the doctrines of creation and divine providence, in which St. Thomas not only passed beyond the images and darkling shadows of anthropomorphic language but also, as we would expect from a man of his balanced genius and spirit of faith, effected what we today might call a ‘demythologisation’ but which might more correctly be described as an examination—rational in character but directed, supported and motivated by faith—of essential truths of Christian revelation. (Paul VI. Letter Lumen ecclesiae on the occasion of the 7th century of St. Thomas Aquinas’s death, no. 16, November 20, 1974 – An English version)
And being thence warned to return to myself, I entered into my inward self, Thou leading me on; and I was able to do it, for You had become my helper. And I entered, and with the eye of my soul (such as it was) saw above the same eye of my soul, above my mind, the Unchangeable Light. Not this common light, which all flesh may look upon, nor, as it were, a greater one of the same kind, as though the brightness of this should be much more resplendent, and with its greatness fill up all things. Not like this was that light, but different, yea, very different from all these. Nor was it above my mind as oil is above water, nor as heaven above earth; but above it was, because it made me, and I below it, because I was made by it. He who knows the Truth knows that Light; and he that knows it knows eternity. Love knows it. (Saint Augustine. Confessions. Bk VII, ch.10, no. 16)
And I viewed the other things below You, and perceived that they neither altogether are, nor altogether are not. They are, indeed, because they are from You; but are not, because they are not what You are. For that truly is which remains immutably. It is good, then, ‘for me to cleave unto God’ (Ps 72:28), for if I remain not in Him, neither shall I in myself; but He, ‘remaining in Himself, renews all things’ (Wis 7:27). And ‘You are the Lord my God, since You stand not in need of my goodness’ (Ps 15:2). (Saint Augustine. Confessions. Bk VII, ch.11, no. 17)
To that wherein they agree with us we prefer them to all others namely, concerning the one God, the author of this universe, who is not only above everybody, being incorporeal, but also above all souls, being incorruptible— our principle, our light, our good. And though the Christian man, being ignorant of their writings, does not use in disputation words which he has not learned—not calling that part of philosophy natural (which is the Latin term), or physical (which is the Greek one), which treats of the investigation of nature; or that part rational, or logical, which deals with the question how truth may be discovered; or that part moral, or ethical, which concerns morals, and shows how good is to be sought, and evil to be shunned—he is not, therefore, ignorant that it is from the one true and supremely good God that we have that nature in which we are made in the image of God, and that doctrine by which we know Him and ourselves, and that grace through which, by cleaving to Him, we are blessed. (Saint Augustine. City of God. Bk VIII, ch.10, no. 1-2)
Is not God the maker of all beings? But man He made in his image and likeness (Gn 1:26-27). It is said that man has a certain similarity with God. But, what likeness? And in relation with which infinite being? Who has some kind of likeness, and in relation to whom? Man in relation to God: ‘Who is man that you remember him?’ (Ps 8:5). We say therefore to our God, though we be men made in His likeness: ‘God, who is like thee?’ (Ps 82:2; 34:10). And then adds: ‘Remember that we are dust’ (Ps 102:14); and therefore far from being like God. Man I made in God’s likeness, but this same likeness is so distant that it is not possible to even make a comparison [with God]. (Saint Augustine. Sermon XXIV, no.3)