Is Pope Francis inaugurating the third millennium?
by Leonardo Boff
The first millennium of Christianity was marked by the paradigm of community. The Churches had relative autonomy regarding their own rites: Orthodox, Coptic, Ambrosian from Milan, Mozarabic, from Spain, and others. They venerated their own martyrs and confessors and had their own theologies, as seen in the flourishing Christianity of North Africa with Saint Augustine, Saint Cyprian and the lay theologian Tertullian. Those Churches recognized each other, and even though a mostly juridical vision in Rome was already appearing, the primacy of charity predominated .
The second millennium was characterized by the paradigm of the Church as a perfect and hierarchichal society: an absolutist monarchy centered in the figure of the Pope as supreme head (cephalic), endowed with unlimited powers and, most recently, with infallibility, when he makes declarations as such in matters of faith and morality. The Pontifical State was created, with an army, a financial system and legislation that included the death penalty. A body of experts of the institution was created, the Roman Curia, responsible for the world ecclesiastical administration. This centralization produced the Romanization of all of Christianity. The evangelization of Latin America, Asia and Africa was accomplished within a process of colonial conquest of the world, and meant that the Roman model was transplanted, practically annulling the embodiment of the local cultures. The strict separation between the clergy and the lay was made official. The lay had no power of decision, (in the first millennium the lay participated in the election of bishops and even of the Pope), and were turned into childlike non-entities, in law and fact.
The palatial ways of the priests, bishops, cardinals and popes were affirmed. The titles of power of the Roman emperors, starting with those of Pope and Sumo Pontiff, were transferred to the bishop of Rome. The cardinals, princes of the Church, dressed up as the high Renaissance nobility, and so it has remained until now, scandalizing more than a few Christians, who were used to seeing Jesus of Nazareth as poor, a man of the people, persecuted, tortured and executed on the cross.
All indications are that this model of Church ended with the resignation of Benedict XVI, the last Pope from this monarchical model, in the tragic context of scandals that have touched the very heart of the credibility of the Christian message.
The election of Pope Francis, who comes «from the end of the world», as he presented himself, from the periphery of Christianity, from the Great South where 60% of Roman Catholics live, will inaugurate the ecclesiastic paradigm of the Third Millennium: the Church as a vast network of Christian communities, rooted in the various cultures, some more ancient than the Western cultures, such as the Chinese, Indian and Japanese, the tribal cultures of Africa and the communities of Latin America. It is also embodied in the modern culture of the technologically advanced countries, with a faith that is also lived out in small communities. All these incarnations have something in common: the urbanization of humanity, where more than the 80% of the population live in huge conglomerates of millions and millions of persons.
In this context, it will be impossible to talk of territorial parishes, but of neighborhood communities, of the buildings, of the streets nearby. In that Christianity, the lay will be protagonists, encouraged by priests who may or may not be married, or by women priests or women bishops, bound more by spirituality than administration. The Churches will have different faces.
The Reformation will not be restricted to the Roman curia, that is in a calamitous state, but will be extended to the entire institution of the Church. Perhaps only by convoking a new Council, with representatives from all of Christendom, will the Pope have the security and the master lines of the Church of the Third Millennium. May the Spirit not fail him.