After a brief summer pause, the Wednesday General Audiences resumed on 4 August. With a small group of faithful gathered in the Paul vi Hall, Pope Francis reflected on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, in which the Apostle emphasized that he had not received ‘his’ Gospel “from man, ... but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ”. The Pope thus cautioned that there are “some movements that preach the Gospel in their own way”, but, he emphasized, “with the truth of the Gospel, one cannot negotiate. Either you receive the Gospel as it is, as it was announced, or you receive something else”. The following is a translation of the Pope’s catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Brothers and Sisters,
When it comes to the Gospel and the mission to evangelize, Paul is enthusiastic, he comes out of himself. He seems to see nothing other than this mission that the Lord has entrusted to him. Everything in him is dedicated to this proclamation, and he has no interest other than the Gospel. It is Paul’s love, Paul’s interest, Paul’s profession: to proclaim. He even goes so far as to say: “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 1:17). Paul interprets his whole existence as a call to evangelize, to make Christ’s message known, to make the Gospel known: “Woe to me”, he says, “if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). And writing to the Christians of Rome, he presents himself simply this way: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, an apostle by calling, chosen to proclaim the Gospel of God” (cf. Rom 1:1). This is his vocation. In short, he is aware that he has been “set apart” to bring the Gospel to all, and he cannot but devote himself with all his strength to this mission.
One can therefore understand the sadness, the disappointment and even the bitter irony of the Apostle towards the Galatians, who in his eyes are taking the wrong path, which will lead to them to a point of no return: they have taken the wrong path. The pivot around which everything turns is the Gospel. Paul does not think of the “four Gospels”, as is natural for us, Indeed, while he is sending this Letter, none of the four Gospels has yet been written. For him the Gospel is what he preaches; this is called the kerygma, that is, the proclamation. And what proclamation? That of the death and resurrection of Jesus as the source of salvation. A Gospel that is expressed with four verbs: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5). This is Paul’s proclamation, the proclamation that gives life to all. This Gospel is the fulfilment of the promises and the salvation offered to all mankind. Whoever accepts it is reconciled to God, is welcomed as a true son, and receives the inheritance of eternal life.
Faced with such a great gift that was given to the Galatians, the Apostle cannot explain why they might think of accepting another “gospel”, perhaps more sophisticated, more intellectual, … another “gospel”. It should be noted, however, that these Christians have not yet abandoned the Gospel announced by Paul. The Apostle knows that they are still in time to avoid taking a false step, but he warns them strongly, very strongly. His first argument points directly to the fact that the preaching carried out by the new missionaries — those who preach novelty — cannot be the Gospel. On the contrary, it is a proclamation that distorts the true Gospel because it prevents the attainment of freedom — this is the key word, isn’t it? — acquired by coming to faith. The Galatians are still “beginners” and their disorientation is understandable. They do not yet know the complexities of the Mosaic Law and their enthusiasm in embracing faith in Christ leads them to listen to these new preachers, deluding themselves that their message is complementary to Paul’s. And it is not so.
However, the Apostle cannot risk that compromises be made on such decisive ground. The Gospel is one alone, and it is the one that he proclaimed; there can be no other. Take heed! Paul does not say that the true Gospel is his because it was he who announced it, no! He does not say this. This would be presumptuous, it would be boastful. Rather, he affirms that “his” Gospel, the same one that the other Apostles were proclaiming elsewhere, is the only authentic one, because it is that of Jesus Christ. He thus writes: “I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:11). Thus, we can understand why Paul uses very harsh terms. Twice he uses the expression “anathema”, which indicates the need to keep far from the community whatever may threaten its foundations. And this new “gospel” threatens the foundations of the community. In short, on this point the Apostle leaves no room for negotiation: one cannot negotiate. With the truth of the Gospel, one cannot negotiate. Either you receive the Gospel as it is, as it was announced, or you receive something else. But you cannot negotiate with the Gospel. One cannot compromise. Faith in Jesus is not merchandise to be negotiated: it is salvation, it is encounter, it is redemption. It cannot be sold off cheaply.
This situation described at the beginning of the Letter seems paradoxical, because all those involved seem to be animated by good feelings. The Galatians who listen to the new missionaries think that by circumcision they can be even more devoted to the will of God and thus be even more pleasing to Paul. Paul’s enemies seem to be inspired by fidelity to the tradition received from the fathers and believe that genuine faith consists in observing the Law. In the face of this supreme fidelity, they even justify their insinuations and suspicions about Paul, who is considered unorthodox with regard to tradition. The Apostle himself is well aware that his mission is of a divine nature — it was revealed by Christ Himself, to him! — and therefore he is moved by total enthusiasm for the novelty of the Gospel, which is a radical novelty, not a fleeting novelty: there are no “fashionable” gospels, the Gospel is always new, it is novelty. His pastoral anxiety leads him to be severe, because he sees the great risk looming over the young Christians. In short, in this labyrinth of good intentions it is necessary to disentangle oneself in order to grasp the supreme truth that presents itself as the most consistent with the Person and preaching of Jesus and His revelation of the Father’s love. This is important: knowing how to discern. Very often we have seen throughout history, and we even see this today, some movements that preach the Gospel in their own way, sometimes with real and fitting charisms; but then they take it too far and reduce the whole Gospel to a “movement”. And this is not the Gospel of Christ: this is the Gospel of the founder and yes, it may help at the beginning, but in the end it does not bear fruit because it does not have deep roots. For this reason, Paul’s clear and decisive word was beneficial for the Galatians and is beneficial for us too. The Gospel is Christ’s gift to us, it is He Himself who reveals it. This is what gives us life.
I cordially greet the English-speaking faithful. I pray that the coming summer holidays will be a time of refreshment and spiritual renewal for you and your families. Upon all of you I invoke the joy and peace of the Lord. May God bless you!
My thoughts go lastly, as customary, to the elderly, who are our wisdom, to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. I entrust you to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary, whom the Liturgy tomorrow, feast of the dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, invites us to contemplate in the icon of the Salus Populi Romani.
My blessing to everyone.