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Pope Francis, Capitalism and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

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Francis. Photo: Tomaz Silva

Francis. Photo: Tomaz Silva

I told you he would be a good pope! Francis has become extremely popular both within and outside the Catholic world. He both teaches and practices simplicity and mercy; he wears simple clothes and refuses to live in the fancy apostolic palace while emphasizing the duty of Christians to embrace the poor, wounded and lost. Recently, his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium has received a lot of attention in the media. It is mainly about evangelism and missions, but what has caught the attention of many is his criticism of capitalism:

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”

Many are quite surprised by this and speculate whether it is an influence of Latin American liberation theology, since pope Francis comes from Argentina. However, while Francis definitely has a stronger emphasis on social justice than his predecessors, this thoughts should probably by no means have been alien to them. John Paul II wrote in his encyclical letter Centesimus Annus:

“It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. But this is true only for those needs which are ‘solvent’, insofar as they are endowed with purchasing power, and for those resources which are ‘marketable’, insofar as they are capable of obtaining a satisfactory price. But there are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish.”

And pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate

“The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way. In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise.

“Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers.”

The Catholic social teaching is far from neo-classical market fundamentalism. And before angry American Christians get upset because the pope sounds like a Marxist, perhaps they should pay attention to Christ, who said stuff like “Woe to you who are rich” (Lk 6:24) “Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor” (Mk 10:21) and “Do not store up treasures on earth.” (Mt 6:19). He wasn’t very capitalist either.

Besides being an activist pope, it is for me also encouraging to see that Francis welcomes the gifts of the Holy Spirit in evangelism. This was naturally not something that the big newspapers focused on but it is a great triumph for the Catholic charismatic renewal, which includes around 100 million people. Using the Greek term charisms to describe the gifts, which is common in Catholic theology, Francis writes in article 130 of Evangelii Gaudium:

The Holy Spirit also enriches the entire evangelizing Church with different charisms. These gifts are meant to renew and build up the Church. They are not an inheritance, safely secured and entrusted to a small group for safekeeping; rather they are gifts of the Spirit integrated into the body of the Church, drawn to the centre which is Christ and then channelled into an evangelizing impulse. A sure sign of the authenticity of a charism is its ecclesial character, its ability to be integrated harmoniously into the life of God’s holy and faithful people for the good of all. Something truly new brought about by the Spirit need not overshadow other gifts and spiritualities in making itself felt. To the extent that a charism is better directed to the heart of the Gospel, its exercise will be more ecclesial. It is in communion, even when this proves painful, that a charism is seen to be authentic and mysteriously fruitful. On the basis of her response to this challenge, the Church can be a model of peace in our world.

Evangelism, activism and Holy Ghost power combined, that is. Amen to that!


  1. […] I have previously pointed out Francis’ love for the gifts of the Spirit, or charisms, in his famous writing Evangelii Gaudum. The charismatic renewal within the Catholic church is especially strong in Latin America, as this clip from the Catholic News Service shows: […]

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The author

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

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