The Pope of freedom of spirit and cordial reason. Leonardo Boff

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220)

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Pope of freedom of spirit and cordial reason


One of the principle conquests of humanity in its process of individualization is the freedom of the spirit.  Spiritual freedom is the capacity of being doubly free: free from the impositions, rules, norms and protocols that were invented by society and its institutions to foster uniform behavior and mold personalities according to their rules. And fundamentally it means being free to be authentic, to think for one’s self and to act according to an inner norm, nurtured throughout life, in resistance to and tension with such impositions.

And it is a titanic struggle. Because we all are born into certain circumstances that do not depend on our own will, be it in the family, the school, the group of friends, religion and the culture that our habits are molded. All these instances function as super-egos, that can be limiting, and in some cases, even debilitating. Logically, these limits perform an important regulatory function. Thanks to their borders and limits the river can be guided to the sea. But those limits can also repress the proper flow of the waters. Then the waters overflow their banks, and become floods.

The surprising attitudes and behavior of the present “bishop of Rome”, as he likes to introduce himself, commonly called Pope Francis, elicit in us this category that so determines the freedom of spirit.

Normally the cardinal named Pope instantly assumes the classic, sacral and hieratic style of the Popes, in his vestments and his gestures, through the symbols of the supreme sacred power, and his manner of speaking. Francis, endowed with an immense freedom of spirit, has done the opposite: he has adapted the figure of the Pope to his own personal style, to his habits and his convictions. We all know the changes he has wrought without much ceremony.  He has left aside all the symbols of power, especially the crucifix of gold and precious stones, and the mozetta, filled with brocades and preciosities, symbols of the pagan Roman emperors of yesteryear; smiling, he told the secretary who was about to put it on his shoulders: “put it away because the carnival is over”. He dresses with great sobriety, in white, with his usual black shoes and, underneath, his trousers are also black. He has put aside all the comforts attributed to the Supreme Pastor of the Church, including the pontifical palace, substituting for it an ecclesiastic guest room, where he eats together with the other fellow guests.

He thinks more of the poor Peter, who was a rustic fisherman, or of Jesus, who, according to poet Fernando Pessoa, “understood nothing of accounting, nor is known to have own a library”, because He was a “fac-totum” and a simple Mediterranean peasant. Francis considers himself the successor of the first and a representative of the second. He does not want to be called “Your Holiness”, because he feels like a “brother among brothers.”  Nor does he want to preside over the Church with the rigors of canon law, but with loving charity .

In his trip to Brazil he showed without compunction his freedom of spirit: he requested a popular car for transportation, a covered jeep to be able to move amidst the people, to embrace the children, to drink a little cimarron, even to trade the “white papal skullcap”  from his own head for another, well-used one, that was offered by one of faithful. In the official welcoming ceremony by the Government, that follows a rigorous protocol, after the speech, he walked up to President Dilma Rousseff and gave her a kiss, to the horror of the master of ceremonies.  And there are many other examples.

This freedom of spirit gives him an undeniable radiance, a mixture of tenderness and vigor, the personal characteristics of Saint Francis of Assisi. It is about a man of great integrity. Such serene and strong attitudes show a man of great compassion, who realized a meaningful personal synthesis between his profound I and his conscious I. He simultaneously elicits lightness and security.  That is what we hope for in a leader, especially a religious leader.

This freedom of spirit is elevated by the splendid resurgence it brings to cordial reason. The majority of Christians are weary of doctrines, and skeptical of campaigns against the real or imaginary enemies of the faith. We are tired to the bone of intellectual, functional, analytic and efficient reason. Now comes someone who always speaks from the heart, as he did in his talk in the Varginha community (favela), or on the island of Lampedusa.  It is in the heart where the profound feelings towards the other and towards God reside. Without the heart, doctrines are cold and elicit no passion.  To the survivors brought from Africa, he confesses: ”we are a society that has forgotten the experience of crying, of ‘suffering with’: the globalization of indifference has stolen from us the ability to cry”. He speaks with wisdom: “The greatness of a society is measured by the way it treats the most needy”.  According to this measure, this world’s society is stunted, anemic and cruel.

The cordial reason is more effective for presenting the dream of Jesus than any erudite doctrine, and will make its principal herald, Francis of Rome, a fascinating figure who touches the deepest heart of Christians and others.

Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia,


One Response

  1. […] The Pope of freedom of spirit and cordial reason. Leonardo Boff. […]

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