Ted Scheinman writes: Pope Francis lives modestly, having renounced the Papal Apartments for a small cell in the Vatican guesthouse. In this regard, he honors his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. But the Pontiff’s relationship with language is far more florid, at times even baroque. In interviews, he plays free-association to grand effect, drawing on art, poetry, and the history of science. In September 2013, Francis gave an expansive interview, disseminated by the Vatican, that attested to his facility at wedding abstract thought to concrete policy. He came off as a pragmatist (“There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now have lost value or meaning”), a mystical aesthete (he describes the gospel as having “freshness and fragrance”), and a Jesuit mistrustful of authority (a true Jesuit, Francis said, “must be a person whose thought is incomplete”).
He is a Renaissance man who believes in the theological uses of doubt, an ascetic given to rich, occasionally gnomic pronouncements, and a pope who broadcasts his fallibility (“I am a really, really undisciplined person”) — small wonder Francis has attracted fierce devotion even among the secular American left.
As he prepares to address the United Nations summit on climate change in September, followed by a speech on the same topic at a special joint meeting of Congress the same month, the pope’s secretaries have prepared a document unprecedented in the Vatican’s history: A nearly 200-page encyclical that ambitiously — and persuasively — integrates the problems of global poverty and man-made climate change, proposing collective solutions for both. Still more radical, the encyclical characterizes both problems as unequivocal moral failures on the part of mankind. [Continue reading…]