Friday, February 15, 2019
On September 24, 2015, Pope Francis was speaking to a group assembled in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and he said something that caused quite a stir within the ranks of Christendom. In this speech, the pope mentioned “the failure of the cross.” His statement troubled many people who wondered what to make of the pope’s remarks. Many, especially Protestants, were deeply offended by those words. But in what context did he use that phrase? Does the pope really see the work of Christ on the cross as a failed event?
According to official Catholic teaching, it is through the cross of Jesus Christ that we have redemption (CCC #517), justification (CCC #617) and salvation (CCC #1741). To their credit, this is indeed biblical. Again, this is official teaching, so they are at least giving lip service to the true effects of the cross. But getting back to the speech, here is the context of what the pope actually said:
“To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it calls for great humility. The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus… and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, in the failure of the cross.”
In the context of his homily, the pope may well have been alluding to 1 Corinthians 1:18, that “the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” thus, seeming like a failure to unbelievers. To be fair, the pope did qualify the phrase in question by saying, “humanly speaking.”
But the magnitude and importance of this one-of-a-kind event called Calvary cannot be overstated. So, he should have been more cautious, especially knowing that this speech was being recorded for the whole world (not just the clergy) to see and hear. The very fact that it was controversial (even for some Catholics) demonstrates that his remarks were not entirely clear. So, any reference to the cross as a “failure” had better be clearly explained.
Ok, so he certainly could have worded it more carefully. The “failure of the cross” seemed to be a less-than-ideal choice of words (even with the qualifier), seeing how it quickly caused a commotion among Christians. He could have used better qualifiers, e.g., “some people may think that it was a failure,” or “it only appeared to be a failure,” etc. Anyone with his level of influence and authority should be very careful about the things he says in public, especially when it comes to the precious blood of the Savior (1 Peter 1:18-19). Ok, so it won’t happen again. Lesson learned, right?
Well, apparently not.
If he would have stopped there, then we would have left this alone and this article would never have been written… but he said it again.
A short time later, on November, 27, 2015, he made a similar comment. In Nairobi, Kenya, Pope Francis said to a group of youth:
“When you don’t understand something, when desperation hits you then look at the cross. That is the great failure of God, that is the destruction of God, and it’s a challenge to our faith. And this is hope, because history did not end in that failure. Rather it’s in the resurrection of Christ that renewed all of us.”
Apparently, the pope was not fazed by the outrage that his words had caused earlier in September. But he went much farther this time and again called Jesus’ suffering on the cross “the great failure of God,” and he also refers to “the destruction of God” and “the history of God’s failure.” These sound more like statements from an atheist than a Christian! See his quote here:
Leaders must be careful of their words – you’d think that he would have learned the first time. But this time he repeated it without saying “humanly speaking,” or using any type of qualifier or clarification. And worse yet, he was speaking to the youth of that country, not scholars or theologians! These impressionable minds can easily take this to mean that God was an actual failure in sending His Son to the cross, and that God was somehow “destroyed”!
Note that never in the speech he gave in September, nor in the one he gave in November, does the pope balance his reference to the cross as a failure with calling the cross an actual victory. Strange, but only the term “failure” is mentioned in both speeches. Was this intentional? So, many youngsters will be left with a false impression of the greatest act of love (and victory!) in the history of mankind (Colossians 2:14-15).
What makes all this even more of a problem is the fact that the Catholic Church, in some of its teachings, promotes the idea that Jesus’ suffering on the cross just didn’t seem to be fully sufficient to save mankind. Therefore, making it at least a partial failure. We’re speaking of doctrines like salvation by “faith-plus-works,” Purgatory, penance, indulgences and sacraments. All these entail adding some sort of work or suffering alongside Jesus’ absolutely sufficient and perfect work on the cross (John 19:30; 1 Corinthians 1:18; Hebrews 9:12, 14, 26; 10:14).
Most Catholics would defend the pope and say that the Church would never say that the cross was a failure. So, if Catholics really are against the idea of the cross failing, and if the cross really means that much to them, then why do they embrace these particular teachings that deny the sufficiency of the cross to pay for the sins of mankind?
The only failure here is on the part of the pope, not the cross. He failed to take advantage of opportunities to exalt the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, but instead, perverted the very meaning of Calvary.