The serious theological discussion about politics and economics that we won’t have on this papal visit.

No “Home Alone Francis” on this one.

Real quick: Maybe I can expound later, but there are two key theological points that undergird the angst around Pope Francis and his social teachings. Look for them deep in the arguments you hear pro and con about whatever he says in the US this week:

  1. Theological anthropology and the power of sin: In short, historically, Protestants have been stronger about the degree of brokenness that sin leaves in humanity. In a fundamentally evil and sinful world, free market economics are valuable as they leverage and limit our innate greediness to bring a greater good for all by aligning individual goals (profit) with common benefit through competition. Similarly, a primarily sinful world needs more limits, whether through penal or military power constrained by balanced opposition and constitutional limits. Historically, Catholics (since Aquinas) see the original goodness of creation redeemed by Christ in our world today, and with it a need not to be content with a sinful balance of power. At the end of the day, the grace of God allows us to aspire to better than an existence rooted and greed, and the hierarchy of divine majesty inspires us to order our society towards a better end. So you get more internationalism and more critique of capitalism. 
  2. Church as hospital for sinners or museum for saints. This division isn’t across denominational lines, I don’t think. Since, I don’t know, the Manicheans and Gnostics in the Church’s first few centuries to today, there is a strain of belief that says that a select few are “it”, and the role of the Church is to separate them and protect them from being spoiled by the world, which is irredeemably broken. Against this, and aligning with the older Christian tradition that has been muted in times when Christians have power, is the strain of belief that says that we are all fully broken, and all redeemed by grace gradually and partially, as we help each other. The only difference between the Church and the world is the recognition of grace. While the first strain seeks to build an impenetrable wall between us and them, the second strain sees no difference but a joy of realization and a desire to invite others into the celebration.

Anyway, gotta run. But watch, you will be able to roll these two dynamics out at your pope-watching party and look super smart.

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