Humility to the detriment of authority?

On March 28, 2013, on the website,Jacques-Charles Gaffiot published an article devoted to the new pope’s style, entitled “Humility Alert:  what the Church would lose by renouncing decorum and her traditions”.  J.-Ch. Gaffiot is the author of Trônes en majesté, l’autorité et son symbole [Thrones in majesty: authority and its symbol], published by Cerf, and Le luxe pour Dieu, which will appear soon.  Here are a few particularly enlightening passages from that article. 

“The style of the new pope, Francis, has been analyzed at length by all the specialists since his election.  Humility and proximity [closeness] seem to be the key words of a pope who will celebrate a Mass on Holy Thursday in a prison, where he will perform the traditional washing of feet.  By trying too hard to play the simplicity card, could the Church lose her influence? …

“During the Mass of enthronement, Pope Francis did not dispense with the pontifical throne which is raised up a step and protected by a canopy….  Nevertheless (and no commentary remarked on these two facts), the pope received standing the respects paid by the six cardinals representing the three order of their College and likewise gave his first official homily standing, unlike all his predecessors.

“Was it yet another demonstration of this ‘simplicity’ that the media have played up so much?  To renounce a sitting position, which in all times and in all places is the highest mark of authority (whereas the standing position assumed in the presence of a seated audience shows a figure’s inferiority) blurs all the distinctions in such extraordinary circumstances and erases all signs of true acknowledgment.  What meaning should we give to an honorific ceremony in which the loyal subject and his new superior both remain standing, as peers, and during which some of the cardinals did not even remove their hats?

“For someone who holds authority, from the father of a family to a head of State, via teachers and judges, and on to the figure of a bishop or the pope, to sit while speaking is never the vainglorious expression of self-aggrandizement.  On the contrary, it means subjecting oneself to the observance of decorum, which requires on the part of those who respect it not just the delivery of well-considered words, but also genuine humility and true simplicity that are practiced in petto [Italian: in the heart], in other words, without the blare of the media trumpets and false celebrity….

“In a book that will soon be published by Cerf, Le luxe pour Dieu [Luxury for God], I emphasized how the symbol, even more than the image, offers to someone who interprets it a language of synthesis.  Indeed, although words may amuse an audience, a symbol offers only its silence to someone who sets about deciphering it.  Paraphrasing Saint Francis de Sales (to whom Francis might also have wanted to refer in his choice of his name), we could even add that the symbol “speaks to the heart, while language speaks only to the ears”.  In its presentation it is faithful to reality and delivers, for those who can see it correctly, the totality of its substance through a single perception.  So that, in presenting itself to all, just like the sun, it enlightens the good and the bad [cf. Matthew 5:45].

“Consequently, using symbolic language requires prudence, simplicity and humility;  to tinker with it is to run the risk of using the language of confusion, an idiom belonging to the builders of the tower of Babel!” (Source : – DICI no.273 dated April 12, 2013)

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One comment on “Humility to the detriment of authority?

  1. The miserablist school of antipapal, antitraditional, anti-common sense has been around a long time.

    Now, it has its champion.



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