Aesthetics in Service to the Gospel: Rethinking Pope Francis’ Approach

Can I be honest? Sometimes the pope’s vestments are downright tacky. He reminds me of that relative who we all love, but who doesn’t understand that we don’t want the tacky sweater she gives us for Christmas each year.

 

As Pope Francis gave his Urbi et Orbi, the first thing I thought was; Who picked out that stole?!?! Then two days later he was named the best dressed man of 2013 by Esquire! I wondered if we were talking about the same person? But, I bit my tongue. Then after Forbes’, How Pope Francis Is Changing Our Definition Of Success,” I knew I had to say something. If Pope Francis is redefining success, then he is also redefining the way we dress for it.

I am left wondering a few things: Does reaching out to the poor, needy, and vulnerable mean that we cannot care about how we look? Is caring for the poor and neglected in society opposed to liturgical beauty and the arts? Does simplicity require tackiness?

Pope Benedict did not think any of these things.

Pope Francis has been right to steer the Church away from the European opulence which has marked some clerics during Pope Benedict’s reign. By getting their pastoral priorities wrong, they came as wolves in sheep’s clothing, or in this case haute couture. But Pope Benedict should be distinguished from those who donned gold thread fabric, embroidery or intricate lace simply for aesthetic concerns. For Pope Benedict it was all about the Gospel…and that makes all the difference.

Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have more in common than meets the eye. I refuse to let those who see Pope Francis as the antithesis of Benedict assert that art and beauty are distractions from the Gospel, or even opposed to it. Against this notion I am reminded of the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with costly oil (Mark 14:3-9). In this story even opulence can be an expression of love for our divine Savior.

Pope Benedict was not wrong to highlight beauty; rather the problem was that his understanding of beauty did not resonate with most of the modern world.

As Pope Francis’ dress (along with much of his papacy) continues to startle, overwhelm, excite, and challenge us, I hope we do not draw from him the conclusion that beauty is counter to Christ’s message. The ability to see beauty and create beautiful things is central to what it means to be a human being. And because Jesus came to elevate our human nature, not obliterate it, this human urge toward beauty is very much part of the Christian Gospel. Beauty is a reflection of redeemed humanity at its best, and even more of God who is the highest Beauty.

I hope that Pope Francis does not abandon Pope Benedict’s attempts to call the world to that which is beautiful within it. Rather, I hope that Pope Francis can help us re-imagine and re-contextualize what is beautiful.

Since as Mary Gavenas said to Esquire, “menswear is meant to express the character of the man wearing the clothes,” it is important that Francis’ clothing express his own sensibilities. I think it would be good for Pope Francis, and those consulting him, to learn something from Pope Benedict’s sense of beauty. The result would be less opulent, not so European, and not so antiquated – but still beautiful. Simple – but still noble. Then we might finally catch a glimpse of the noble simplicity which is the elusive hallmark of the Roman Rite.

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55 comments

  1. I know people here won’t believe this, but it is true, Pope Francis liturgical vestments are more in keeping with my personal tastes for me and what I prefer to wear. Yet for the pope, whoever it might be, I prefer to see something else than what I personally like for myself. He likes simple and that’s his prerogative. Tastes and style are subjective and the stole shown while very simple isn’t distasteful as far as I can tell. What Benedict wore, and I suspect it was a sign of his tastes as it concerns respect for the office of the papacy, resonated with many people especially the more traditional. What Pope Francis wears and how he models his papacy resonates more with others and maybe a majority of others, especially those who are well-formed in our more casual culture of style of dress and behavior today. In terms of appealing to the masses and the media, it seems to be working for Pope Francis. But I suspect he could have redeemed the more formal look of Pope Benedict by wearing what Pope Benedict wore but still acting like Pope Francis. I think he would have the same effect he is having without eschewing papal protocol as much as he has. But each pope has their style and right to it and the Church moves on. I suspect many see Pope Francis’ tastes and style as very beautiful and why argue with that? And the same for Pope Benedict’s style.

  2. Everyone has their opinion of course but I do not agree with this article.
    1. Why is that stole tacky? It really isn’t.
    2. “Does simplicity require tackiness?” Again, who said he dresses tacky?
    3. ” Pope Francis has been right to steer the Church away from the European opulence which has marked some clerics during Pope Benedict’s reign.”
    Actually it was Benedict who led the way in opulence.
    4. “Pope Benedict was not wrong to highlight beauty; rather the problem was that his understanding of beauty did not resonate with most of the modern world.”
    Yup, it didn’t resonate all right. Lets get styling and go out and wear that camauro on a cold winter day and order me a fanon at QVC.
    5. ” I hope we do not draw from him the conclusion that beauty is counter to Christ’s message.
    Really? Can you give me Christ’s quote or message on that please?
    “The ability to see beauty and create beautiful things is central to what it means to be a human being.”
    So it’ not really Christ’s message but rather a human endeavor?
    “And because Jesus came to elevate our human nature, not obliterate it, this human urge toward beauty is very much part of the Christian Gospel.” Again, a scripture quote on why the need to create beautiful things are part of the Gospel?
    6. ” I think it would be good for Pope Francis, and those consulting him, to learn something from Pope Benedict’s sense of beauty.”
    I don’t think Francis thinks lace and red Prada shoes are beautiful.

    Maybe I’m just cranky today because it is so cold and I don’t have a camauro hat to wear, but this is a tortuous excuse for B16’s opulence. For all of us who are not “beautiful” and do not think that the Gospel weighs in heavily on beauty all I can say is “Oy vey”.

  3. “Who picked out that stole?!?! “

    I wondered the exact same thing, and my guess would be: (who else but) Msgr. Guido Marini.

  4. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!” is much more than a cliche. A beautifully woven plain STADELMAIER amply cut chasuble – even with a forbidden overlay stole – can be quite beautiful. The stole really is the key priestly vestment. The Holy Rood Guild also does some beautiful simple one color chasubles. Beauty in shape and form rather than ornamentation is lovely.
    Several years ago we had a diocesan Eucharistic congress and used Meyer•Vogelpohl glass chalices and patens that I thought worthy of the liturgy. They were specially set apart well crafted vessels most certainly not used at the dinner table. Liturgy police threatened me.
    Good design is key to me. Now they are on a back shelf. Maybe things will change.

  5. Nathan, you express very well many of my own feelings. As an aesthetic matter, I generally favor simplicity, but why the Pope would not wear a cope and mitre to give the Urbi et Orbi blessing escapes me. I would think of this as a a way of honoring the assembly, rather than drawing attention to oneself.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #5:
      I think Pope Benedict only used cope and miter once for the Christmas Urbi et Orbi and that was early on when he was still using Pope Paul’s pastoral staff. Later he used the red mozetta with ermine, surplice under it with the ornate papal stole, no miter. The same for the Easter version of the same, except white mozetta with ermine. Pope Benedict did have the very ornate papal throne behind him on the loggia which added more dignity and festivity.

  6. Beauty is also a service to the poor. It uplifts the spirit and nourishes the mind. Is it as important as food or shelter? No, but we are more than animals. Humans need more than the most basic necessities.

    Also, beauiful things are not always expensive. I would argue that expensive materials are secondary when creating someting beauiful – it is better to use good aesthetic principles with cheap materials than to use bad aesthetics with expensive materials. Ugly things are often not cheap. Also, a brand new vestment, no matter how inexpensive or simply designed, costs more than a recycled vestment from decades ago. Pope Benedict often recycled vestments.

  7. Thank you, Nathan, for a thoughtful and charitable exposition of this element of Christian life. Beauty and opulence are not the same; isn’t that a nuance that Sacrosanctum Concilium highlighted for the Church?

    At times, I do think Pope Benedict’s vestments and other liturgical accessories leaned more toward the opulent than the beautiful. Who can say if it was always his initiative, but he did wear more grandiose vestments than other popes since Vatican II. Still, a several times a year, I am drawn to meditate on Pope Benedict’s November 7, 2010, homily at Sagrada Familia, in which he said:

    Indeed, beauty is one of mankind’s greatest needs; it is the root from which the branches of our peace and the fruits of our hope come forth. Beauty also reveals God because, like him, a work of beauty is pure gratuity; it calls us to freedom and draws us away from selfishness.

    Pope Francis’ visit and liturgy at Lampedusa in July 2013 was packed with emotion. There was much good that was shared and prayed there. The altar and ambo made with timber from wrecked boats that carried passengers in search of a new and better life was moving. The wooden Eucharistic vessels were simple and beautiful. The vestments and even the ambo design left something to be desired, however; they seemed to lack depth that really could “bear the weight of mystery” beyond that event.

    I have resisted over-analysis of Francis’ liturgical style to this point, in part because I am drawn to his clear, crisp, and honest approach to the governance of the Church and our mission to be joyful, merciful, and united with the poor. I agree with Nathan that we can do more than one thing at a time : it is possible to hold up beauty, to care about the sensory experience of divine worship, while at the same time walking, rich and poor, in solidarity with one another in this beautifully created world.

  8. Dear God! Who looks at the Pope to critique his apparel? This sound likes a discussion on Paris fashion week. What did Jesus wear again?

    1. @Maria Evans – comment #10:
      Not so much a critique, but an acknowledgement that how we dress matters. Whether we like it or not, how we dress is significant in how we are perceived. This is a universal reality across culture and time, so it seems unlikely to change! For those we encounter personally, hopefully we can get beyond outward appearances. But I will never get to know Pope Francis personally, so all I have to go on is his public appearance and statements. That might be the only real critique I have of Francis (and it is very minor)… that with more of the papacy being off-the-cuff (not necessarily a bad thing) sometimes appearances or statements cause unintended confusion and need to be explained later. So far these have been minor in comparison to major successes of messaging and appearance/action.

      According to John 19:23-24, Jesus wore a seamless tunic that apparently was quite desirable. While it might not have been beautiful in the sense that it was overtly adorned or “trying too hard” it certainly would have been considered beautiful and valuable for its “noble simplicity” and the level of skill and design required to produce it.

  9. Beauty is one thing.

    Opulence and regal styles of a bygone era is another thing. Lace is not a sign of the holy. Just a marker for those who wish it had never changed. Well it did. Going back is not the same as never having been changed.

    I’m all for pointing to transcendence, but Renaissance/Baroque clothing for the elite is not a an indication of transcendence. Quite the opposite, I think.

  10. Pope Francis may not wear the trappings of the previous papacy, but he acts very decisively. He just dismissed from his relgious order of the Jesuits a progressive Jesuit, and columnist for the NCR, Fr. John Dear and it appears, just my humble opinion, that he requested Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro to clarify something he published in Civilta Cattolica.

    John Allen reports the following:

    “Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor of the influential journal Civiltà Cattolica, published a front-page essay in Tuesday’s Corriere della Sera, Italy’s paper of record, responding to widespread claims in the Italian media of an “opening” by Francis to legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

    In fact, Spadaro wrote, Francis has no intention of “legitimizing any behavior that’s inconsistent with the doctrine of the church.”

    The effort to twist the pope’s words, Spadaro wrote, comes both “from his ‘detractors’ on the right, as well as those who exalt him in order to take advantage of him on the left.” He called those efforts “misleading” and a form of “manipulation.”

    When the Civiltà Cattolica interview appeared in September, one widely quoted line was Francis’ insistence that “I have never been a right-winger.”

    Spadaro was later compelled to explain that what Francis meant was that he had never been a supporter of Argentina’s military regime in the 1970s and ’80s. The pope did not mean to locate himself, Spadaro said at the time, on the contemporary ideological spectrum.”

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #14:
      Allan,

      There is no indication in any of the reports I have seen that Pope Francis had anything to do with Dear’s dismissal. Some have speculated that the Pope might have to confirm the dismissal, because the the Jesuits’ 4th vow to the Pope (this, of course, presumes that Dear took final vows, which he might not have), but this seems to be just speculation. The meme of “the Pope may seem nice but he is really an iron-fisted hardass” is getting a bit old. I suggest you leave that deceased equine to Fr. Z for flogging.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #16:
        Here you go – http://ncronline.org/news/peace-justice/john-dear-jesuit-known-peace-witness-dismissed-order

        “Nicolás says the matter came to the attention of the Jesuit officials in Rome following a request for action from the Maryland province of the order, one of seven provinces the order maintains in the U.S. and the one in which Dear became a Jesuit.

        Nicolás says he and five other members of the Jesuits’ international council then held a vote on whether to dismiss Dear, which resulted in a unanimous vote for dismissal.

        A separate letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, dated Oct. 14, confirms the Jesuits’ decree of dismissal but also asks for confirmation of the decree from Francis.

        While canon law does not specify that a pope must confirm a priest’s dismissal from a religious order, one canon lawyer contacted for background speculated that Francis’ approval might be required in the matter because of a special vow of obedience some Jesuits can choose to make to the pope.”

        And, keep in mind, the last paragraph is one canon lawyer’s opinion (and there may be many opinions) and that Allan again appears to just not understand that the order of dismissal is done by the Jesuits – first, the local province, then the general with his consultors. The pope, at most, would only *confirm* these prior decisions.

        As usual, Allan is the expert given his long years in a religious order (????)

        And, of course, his other meme, that this pope does not speak carefully or precisely and that he is taken out of context……this helps his usual narrative so that when he doesn’t like something Francis says, he can raise the issue that someone translated, interpreted, or missed what he actually meant…thus, it allows for lots of wiggle room to cover his own misguided meme.

      2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #16:
        I certainly wouldn’t call him a “hard—” as I blush even typing the hyphens. But he doesn’t fool around with priests and clericalist attitudes, all the way from calling some “little monsters” to delaying becoming monsignors, and laicizing the Australian dissident priest and now this Jesuit’s fate, and precisely because he is a Jesuit, one would think the Congregation for clergy and/or religious would certainly see the implications of this for a Jesuit pope, the first in the Church’s history, but yes it is speculation, but not unwarranted.

  11. All I can offer here is this thought, for what it is worth: When I look at a picture of Pope Francis in various media, the first thing I notice is the openness of his face, his posture, and his actions, not his clothing. For me his dress does not get in the way. Because of this, I am interested in reading about what he is doing, writing, and thinking.

    When I would see pictures of Pope Benedict (if we are comparing here), the first thing I would notice would be his attire and then have to strive to notice what the picture was trying to portray; and, I will be honest and say I didn’t try very hard to read the article attached to the picture.

    That is because much what Pope Benedict wore wasn’t beautiful to me, personally. Beauty is subjective, just like many aspects of liturgical aesthetics.

    1. @Anita Fischer – comment #15:
      Nathan, I first and foremost want to thank you for the way you presented this matter. Your concern is clear and your words are charitable.

      That said, I find that I do not understand the focus on the vestments in the same way. I love what you said Anita, this makes so much sense to me. My friend Maria Evans also communicated much of the same.

      And FWIW, I recently saw a photo of Bl. John Paul II wearing a terrible (IMHO) stole. I have to go look for it. In the end, not that it matters.

  12. Jeff Rice : @Maria Evans – comment #10: Not so much a critique, but an acknowledgement that how we dress matters. Whether we like it or not, how we dress is significant in how we are perceived. This is a universal reality across culture and time, so it seems unlikely to change! For those we encounter personally, hopefully we can get beyond outward appearances. But I will never get to know Pope Francis personally, so all I have to go on is his public appearance and statements. That might be the only real critique I have of Francis (and it is very minor)… that with more of the papacy being off-the-cuff (not necessarily a bad thing) sometimes appearances or statements cause unintended confusion and need to be explained later. So far these have been minor in comparison to major successes of messaging and appearance/action. According to John 19:23-24, Jesus wore a seamless tunic that apparently was quite desirable. While it might not have been beautiful in the sense that it was overtly adorned or “trying too hard” it certainly would have been considered beautiful and valuable for its “noble simplicity” and the level of skill and design required to produce it.

    I still do not understand why looks are so important. They may influence how we are perceived, but is this important? Isn’t it somewhat shallow to judge on appearances? I won’t ever know Pope Francis either but feel that I learn what he is like from what he says and does. I don’t notice what he wears. A much loved Jesuit priest, now sadly dead, was, frankly, scruffy. He presided at my parents Golden Wedding Mass and I wondered how my Dad, who was very critical of sloppy dressing, would react to him. After the Mass, as I was going into my parents’ house, I heard Dad saying: “When you look at him, you’d think he was a tramp but when he…

    1. @Maria Evans – comment #16:
      “I still do not understand why looks are so important.”
      When the head of government or state visits, say, a hospital, it will be smartened up and the staff will wear their cleanest clothes and uniforms. Soldiers at a military base receiving such a visitor will practice all their drills and make everything clean and tidy.
      The visitor wears smart clothes as a sign of respect to the hosts. Have you ever seen the Queen, on an official visit, wearing dirty clothes?
      How important is it show polite respect?

      1. @Peter Haydon – comment #36:
        This was never about wearing dirty clothes or dressing in a way that does not rwspect the person you are with.
        All that is good, but does not need elaborate things form 500 years ago.

      2. @Mark Miller – comment #37:
        Indeed. I thought that it would be useful to make the point that wearing appropriate clothes has some importance. Comment 16 refers to a priest who was scruffy.
        I suppose that you refer to clothes of a 500 year old style: anything that old still in use would be remarkable.

  13. For the twenty years that I worked in the public mental health system, I dressed down. Even though I was a senior administrator and often worked with the general public as well as fellow administrators, clinical staff, consumers and their family members. We dressed to make consumers comfortable since most of them live at poverty level. Physicians were generally addressed as Dr. with either their first name or Last initial. The rest of us simply went by our first names.

    In the last several years I have had a lot of use of medical professionals including some from an institutional that prides itself as delivering world class medicine. I have indeed encountered there a physician who is world class by all his credentials and also in the treatment that he gave me. But lab coats and titles and all the elaborate tests and measurements don’t really mean much. Actually one of my best treatment professionals is my physical therapist who goes by his first name and does not wear white. I would trade him for most of the doctors with their tests and pills any day.

    Francis is getting us back to basics, to simplicity, humility and care for one another. It is something the world as well as the church desperately needs.

  14. I didn’t think comment #2 was that far afield at all.

    Evangelii Gaudium 43 sums it up well: some time-honored customs and even beautiful things must be put away so that the Gospel can be proclaimed more effectively.

    That little suit my mom dressed me in when I was four for the portrait with my sister was sharp, beautiful, and stylish. For 1963. If I want to recapture the joy of my familial relations, I am obliged to do so at the heart of my relationship with my sister and mother. Not dress up hoping it will all come back. Like magic.

    As long as we’re comparing (and that is the essence of the original post) Pope Benedict said and did some things that obscured the Gospel. Any effective communicator knows that it’s not just about the message and the intent behind the message, but also how the message is received.

    We can hype the red shoes as symbolic of walking in the blood of martyrs until the expired equine reanimates, or come up with a similar explanation of the fanon. But if it obscures the Gospel, it. must. go. Theology of sacrifice. Simple. But admittedly, difficult.

    Sometimes you have to spend a little money to get the message across. Dusting off old vestments is one thing. Having a seamster come in, cut them up, and sew them into pillows, which in turn are placed under the heads of homeless children–that’s another.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #22:
      How about using the old vestments and instead buying pillows for homeless children with the money you would spend on new, supposedly more humble, vestments? You get more – and better – pillows.You might miss out on a photo op and be deemed “opulent” by shallow people, but that isn’t what it is all about anyway.

  15. Thank you, Anita Fischer #15. I wish I had made my point as well as you did. It is so true. Because he is uncluttered Pope Franciis’s message comes across so much more clearly.

  16. The issue Mr. Chase highlights in the original post is not ‘what’s the importance of appearances?’ but rather ‘what’s the importance of beauty?’ I think the distinction is important because the issue at hand isn’t so much whether one can or ought to be simple in appearance to reflect our simplicity of life (as Esquire indicates), but whether beauty and the creation of beautiful things have a place in the public ministry of the Church.
    If I’m reading him correctly, Mr. Chase is arguing that despite Francis’s downplaying of beauty we should recall the example and arguments Benedict provided as to the importance of beauty for the Church and the human being. Moreover, the creation of beautiful things (especially, but not exclusively for the liturgy) is completely compatibility with a Christian concern for the poor.
    I agree with Mr. Chase wholeheartedly – though I would extend his argument and say that not only are they compatible they coincide. You cannot have the latter without the former.
    As to the descriptions of ‘tacky’, ‘opulent’, ‘outdated’, well, I guess the question would be who gets do make those labels? If one can legitimately say that Francis’s stole isn’t really tacky at all, then one can just as legitimately say that Benedict’s vestments weren’t really opulent, or even outdated. Perhaps I can grant that there must be some kind of loose measure we could use on tacky and opulence (I would certainly agree that the cappa magna, for instance, is opulent and doesn’t speak well for those who wish to wear it, but am not sure why I agree). The liturgy is itself the product of bygone ages, however, so I don’t quite see why older vestments/styles of vestments are bad or misplaced. Moreover, how would anyone ever have the capacity to determine when a liturgical object which was made in the past must be laid aside because it is outdated? If we’re using it, the object was made and of a bygone age. Perhaps, Benedict’s example on that score could be valuable for a culture that is slavishly…

  17. Brendan – good points but may I suggest a different way of interpretation:
    rather than saying that Francis downplays *beauty* – for some of us, he correctly heightens beauty (e.g. beauty of simple things; beauty of the poor, the disadvantaged, the impaired, etc.).
    You appear to silo and categorize when you say *the creation of beautiful things* – but that implies a subjective judgment. You have to feel and understand to get to *beauty* – whether it be a Renaissance motet or the hungry children in a favorala.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #25:
      Very good points, Mr. de Haas. I can certainly see how Francis’s simple style might very well appeal to some. And I agree that the public gestures he has made for the beauty of every human being have been wonderful (though I regret that his predecessors’ common gestures and statemens in that regard seem to be forgotten in the process of loving Francis). And of course, judgment is an important element – we have to form ourselves to see the beautiful.
      I’m not what you mean by silo and categorize – I simply took the phrase from Mr. Chase and followed his lead in thinking about the place of beauty and specifically art in the life of the Church and it’s non-incompatibility with concern for the poor.

      What I find so surprising is the negative reaction to the original post. I’m not sure if it’s because many commenters don’t like that someone would suggest Benedict still can teach us. If it’s because the occasion for the reflection is papal vestments and that’s so superficial. Or if it’s the central claim he makes about art and beauty and their place in the gospel – that strikes me as the heart of Mr. Chase’s piece. Comment #2 above has been invoked or approved by many, but I’m having a difficult time seeing a clear counter-position emerge. Do those who disagree with Mr. Chase really think beauty and art have nothing to do with the gospel, or are even anti-gospel? If beauty is not a transcendental (which I think Mr. Chase presumes), what is it? Can we be human without beauty and without fashioning beautiful things?
      I’m genuinely interested to read what positions are out there on these issues. Help me be less ignorant.

      1. @Brendan McInerny – comment #45:

        “Do those who disagree with Mr. Chase really think beauty and art have nothing to do with the gospel, or are even anti-gospel?”

        Of course not.

        The problem I have with Mr. Chase’s post is that first, he categorized Francis’s vestments as “downright tacky” without providing any explications for why he thinks that way (about which I’m still curious, btw).

        Then, quite ironically, he went on to call out others for “villainizing Benedict,” instead of “reflecting on the positive things he gave the Church,” when he himself has just done pretty much the same thing to Francis with his post.

        And for the record, I too am a fan of both Popes Benedict and Francis, but as far as vestments are concerned, count me as another who prefers Francis’s simpler noble style.

  18. Apparently the author of this entry believes that “clothes make the Pope”. How absurd. Does anyone believe for a moment that the inspiration for ornate or even distinctive garb for clerics and prelates was inspired by the gospel? It was motivated by a need by ecclesiastics to look as noble as the members of the imperial court. But only where there was a flow of money to afford such digs. The peasant clergy and those in monasteries and religious orders where the vow of poverty was taken seriously would not be caught dead in something that could be described as ornate.
    Even special street garb for clergy arose from the notion that the clergy had a higher calling than the laity. They were fitted with cassocks and head gear that allowed them to stand out. One can only wonder that the reformation was so long in coming.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #26:
      I agree with you that it would be absurd to say that “clothes make the Pope.” What I tried to say is that clothes express the character of the pope.

      I think it is important that we take beauty seriously. I have become concerned that people are undervaluing beauty in any form and see it as unimportant. Setting aside his personal taste, Benedict wanted us to embrace and quest for the beautiful as a reflection of the beauty of God. This seems noble to me.

      It seems that some cannot fathom that I can love both Francis and Benedict. I see the Gospel (and beauty) lived out in both of their papacies, albeit in different ways. I love the Church and believe that Pope Francis is taking it in a much needed direction. I was merely suggesting that we could all learn something from Benedict. Instead of villainizing him, as seems to have become the norm, we should spend our energy reflecting on the positive things he gave the Church.

      1. @Nathan Chase – comment #30:
        Undervaluing beauty? I’m not so sure we’re any worse than other generations. Appreciating beauty in music, architecture, and even in the human person comes and goes with generations, fads, and cultures. 17th century Germans burned tens of thousands of women accused of witchcraft–maybe that puts a tarnish on their cultural achievements. Beauty is as beauty does …

        As for villainizing Pope Benedict, a few things:

        – Many of us criticize the ideas, not the man.
        – The man was the most famous CDF head in history
        – He was also the most famous person to be elected pope
        – Many would say he had a very ugly history with people who were sorely mistreated and abused under his CDF

        We had twenty years to form an opinion of a man who was prolific in writing and not shy in offering opinions on all sorts of matters. He was hardly a newbie in our eyes in 2005. That people gave him a New York minute or a few years of a “second chance,” well, that may have been applied more fairly than some think.

        A man wearing finery who treated some people very shabbily, or a man dressed shabbily treating people like Christ: a false choice, certainly. But it’s part of the overall equation.

  19. Mr. Nathan Chase,

    so, what exactly about the pope’s vestments do you sometimes find “downright tacky”? Is it the color? the design? the fabric? what?

    Not being snarky, I am genuinely curious.

  20. What an amazingly depressing thread, and does anyone else think that Nathan has been deliberately baiting us so that we will talk?

    Question: what is beauty? (Hint: Augustine has some very interesting things to say about this.)

    Question: can definitions of beauty vary according to (a) context, (b) culture, (c) function? (Answer: yes, of course.)

    Question: does it matter if Francis does not dress up like Bishop Bling? Really, does it? (Answer: not in the slightest. In fact, it could be a benefit.)

    I have to confess that I did not find that stole tacky. Not beautiful, but not tacky. Just ordinary. It’s all about perceptions. I’m with Dale in #2.

  21. Thank you, Paul (comment no. 28) and Dale (comment no. 2).

    I did not think that Nathan was deliberately baiting us. I thought perhaps he was laboring under the intense chill in Minnesota the past few days.

  22. I agree with comment #2 !

    The idea that beauty goes along with goodness and truth (the transcendentals) is a medieval concept that even Augustine questioned. Jesus’ crucifixion was anything but beautiful.

  23. “and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it”

    As some have noted, Francis’ face, words, and actions do not require that they are bestowed with greater honor. Rather, as still others have noted, his simple beauty serves to better communicate to those who may think of themselves as “less presentable” that they can find beauty within themselves as well.

  24. I don’t think it honors either Francis or Benedict to talk about their clothes.

    I am glad that some of the more astute observers of the Papal scene are beginning to appreciate Benedict better. John Allen put him in top place for the most under-covered story

    1. Benedict the revolutionary

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/top-five-under-covered-catholic-stories-2013

    Despite images of Francis as a maverick, by far the single most revolutionary act committed by a pope in 2013 came from Benedict XVI in the form of his stunning decision to voluntarily renounce his office. Sometimes lost in the shuffle amid the frenzy over Francis is that Benedict was actually the prime mover in the drama.

    In effect, Benedict has gone from infallibility to near-invisibility, and entirely by his own choice. If that’s not a “miracle of humility in an era of vanity,” to invoke Elton John’s Vanity Fair tribute to Francis back in June, it’s hard to know what would be.

    If resignation becomes the norm for the Papacy, then it is possible that Benedict’s revolutionary act could end up in the long run transforming Catholicism more than anything that Francis does.

    And to judge Benedict by his clothes even positively in light of his “miracle of humility” is extremely wrong.

    Paul said What an amazingly depressing thread, and does anyone else think that Nathan has been deliberately baiting us so that we will talk?

    I agree.

    The Church and more importantly the World has moved on, so it is time for PT to move on. So I think its time that the contributors to PT evaluate some of the past hot issues (Benedict vs Francis, the EF, clothes) for their continued relevance.

    Speaking of change, John Allen is moving to the Boston Globe to cover the Vatican and Catholicism as associate Editor. That should tell you it is a different world. Benedict and Francis have remade the position of the Vatican and Catholicism in the world. It about more than clothes.

    “He will be a correspondent first and foremost. He will be an analyst on all things Catholic. He will also help us explore the very real possibility of launching a free-standing publication devoted to Catholicism, drawing in other correspondents and leading voices from near and far.”

  25. Dale quoted and commented:
    ” I hope we do not draw from him the conclusion that beauty is counter to Christ’s message.
    Really? Can you give me Christ’s quote or message on that please?
    “The ability to see beauty and create beautiful things is central to what it means to be a human being.”
    So it’ not really Christ’s message but rather a human endeavor?

    I am surprised no one has offered the pertinent passage, a favorite of St Francis and likely Pope Francis as well:

    Mt 6:28-34
    Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.
    But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.
    * If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
    So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
    All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
    But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides.
    Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

  26. To each pope his own, I suppose, and a stole is a stole. What I don’t get is why Pope Francis won’t put on a rochet (with minimal lace) and a mozzetta (without fur) when the bishop of any place except Rome would be expected to. Or has he?

    1. @Paul R. Schwankl – comment #39:
      Erm, I don’t know any arch/bishops who wear a rochet or mozzetta and I come from London which is an important see internationally. So perhaps Pope Francis is reflecting local episcopal dress? The only place I know of where a bishop would be ”expected” to do so is at the Vatican!

      1. @Andrew rex – comment #42:
        Never mind rochets and mozzettas, how many bishops wear a cassock on any kind of regular basis? I wonder what would happen if Francis showed up in typical episcopal dress of suit with Roman collar and pectoral cross?

      2. @Andrew rex – comment #42:
        It’s normal attire (“vestis choralis”) for a Latin Rite bishop who is attending a worship service or related function but not running it, concelebrating, or taking some other active, vestment-worthy role. Popes are frequently in that situation. See here for instances in Rome, when Pope Francis is the only bishop present in his house cassock: https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTKYArMgyzDGa3cowpo4GjmChlacLY04VlgZrrO2WcymP5cKzd77Q; https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTDY0pWb2lD3ofPIsXD8HYKt6DQTUCPmEx8dyuAyq8-aNSUXlwJQA; https://encrypted-tbn3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTtimbhINF1HcVLBfu-oGyVABNMh6A1qKOZZojsZvREVYrKCW4o. And see here, for uses of vestis choralis closer to home: http://www.dioceseofshrewsbury.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Cardinal-laughing-1024×803.jpg; https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSjFjPtzxK7n3rsep8fRAlzX-jQp7UlbPGOLPZ2oC8amaa7f2uPPw; http://www.catholicnews.org.uk/Home/Featured/Features-2011/Bishops-Five-Year-Vision-for-the-Church-in-England-and-Wales.
        It strikes me as self-contradictory that Pope Francis, who seems to chafe under papal exceptionalism and often refers to himself as “bishop of Rome,” would choose to appear in his house cassock instead of the garb the other bishops are required to wear. Better insights, anybody?

  27. It is important to remember that poverty is not just material need or an insufficiency of nourishment. Poverty is infinitely variable and often hidden by what many would perceive to be prosperity. Consider:

    “The poor [τοὺς πτωχοὺς] you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” (Mt. 26:11 NRSV, NA28)

    In this light,

    “The poor [τοὺς πτωχοὺς] you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” (Mark 14:7 NRSV, NA28)

    From a Gospel standpoint, to be a poor person [πτωχος] is to reside in an inexplicable and singular category. Poverty is not qualified or quantified in either Matthew or Mark. It is not that the materially poor or nutritionally suffering constitute one category, the mentally ill and physically ill another, and so forth. There are no ranks, as if some sufferers suffer more than others. Why, then, do we consistently fall for this distortion of our own desires, that some poverties are indeed more praiseworthy to ameliorate?

    Not a few people have puzzled over Jesus’ command “… and you can help them any time you want”. Perhaps Our Lord taught this because the infinite complexity of poverty exhausts the ability of any person or group of persons to significantly change poverties by their own initiative. Pope Francis’s relative simplicity of vestment as compared to his predecessor is startling. Could not it be said that Pope Francis is merely offering his tiny solace towards The Poverty we all suffer, rather than the notion that even the entire Church can be harnessed towards a great alleviation of material need with the Pope’s vestimentary regimen as a standard? The latter hope, it appears, contradicts the Gospels.

    In this respect I am disappointed in what often appears to be unqualified praise of Pope Francis. The Pope follows our Lord’s command to offer assistance when he can. The prince-pontiffs of the Papal States marched through Rome covered in ermine and cape, but looked after the grain doles.

  28. I thought the article was right on. Sometimes the lack of papal attire says something that I think that Pope Francis might not wish to say. Sometimes it seems to downplay beauty in a way that he doesn’t mean to do (based on his comments about beauty in the liturgy). Pope BXVI made some of these same mistakes in the other direction- talking about beauty but sometimes crossing over to the gaudy. Also, BXVI, in his interviews, spoke about wearing the older vestments as a sign of continuity. He never intended (according to him) to ONLY use old vestments (and old music, etc). I think that Pope Francis sometimes gives a message of rupture that he might not intend. He has often spoken about continuity, but the clothes don’t show that so much. That said, Pope Francis has used more ornate vestments from time to time (sometimes opulent copes and chasubles). Once his point about simplicity is well made, I expect to see him more open to some of the papal wardrobe. That said, Pope Francis certainly doesn’t need me to advise him on PR!

  29. Must be the middle of winter, cabin fever has set in, and we are reduced to talking about the Pope’s choice of attire. I don’t see tacky anywhere, even allowing for different tastes in clothing. His clothing is clean and well cared for. He is not out of ‘uniform’.

    My cousin Tom, a retired army Major, has a ceremonial dress uniform that he wears to weddings and such and it makes him look like a South American military dictator, which is a little ironic since Pope Francis actually is a South American dictator of sorts. Maybe he just wants to avoid being painted with that particular brush.

    Whatever his reason may be, he is clearly not telling anyone that reaching out to the poor means neglecting one’s appearance, but neither does it allow for preening about in regalia like a runway model.

  30. I don’t pretend to be able to read the mind of Pope Francis re: vesture. But I do wonder if formal “choral” vesture needs to be re-thought for monastic and prelatial members of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, given the age in which we live.

    Living in a religious community (the Society of Jesus) which never had formal “choral” dress, and witnessing the practice of western monastic communities (many of whom only wear a “choir” cape over the standard habit), and witnessing Eastern Christian practices (the standard riasa/cassock is used, even by bishops [perhaps with an occasional mandyas (cope)]), one wonders whether “choir dress” for western Catholic prelates should be phased out and replaced by the simpler “house cassock” at all occasions, liturgical and non-liturgical.

    I applaud the freedom that Pope Francis has shown (imitating Benedict’s vesture) when he has greeted some visitors (outside his formal apartment) in a cassock without the mozzetta.

    Maybe the question is not whether Pope Francis is “dressing down” but why others still are “dressing up” when it is not needed?

    To put my comments in context, I do vest in a Byzantine cassock with cylindrical hat and veil when appropriate to the occasion! But those occasions don’t happen that often!

    1. @Dennis Smolarski SJ – comment #54:
      Simplicity is a wonderful goal, but for me the main issue with “choral dress” in the Latin Rite is not the quantity or decoration of the garments but what they signify. The cassock and biretta signify that the wearer is a member of the clergy. The shoulder cape, skullcap, and cross signify that the wearer has been ordained a bishop. But there’s also the surplice or rochet, which signifies that the wearer is a baptized person, a status that is the foundation for all the rest. I’m not very keen to give that last significance up in the name of simplicity, and I wish Pope Francis and Dennis Smolarski agreed with me. A pope’s cassock may be white, but it’s a cassock.
      But that’s a consideration for worship services. Maybe somebody can enlighten me on why past popes have continued to get into vestis choralis for all kinds of nonworship occasions, like greeting visiting heads of state (with the addition of a highly decorated stole, but only, I have heard, if the visitor is Catholic). This tradition plainly predates the invention of the house cassock by Pope Pius IX. Unless I’m missing something, I’d say (with Dennis) that it’s a practice Pope Francis and his successors are well rid of.

  31. Pope Francis strikes again, this time against: “smarmy,” [unctuous, It: unctuoso] priests

    http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/01/11/pope_francis:_the_true_priest_and_his_relation_to_christ/en1-763111

    And instead of being anointed he ends up being smarmy. And how damaging to the Church are smarmy priests! Those who put their strength in artificial things, in vanity, in an attitude… in a cutesy language… But how often do we hear it said with sorrow: ‘This is a butterfly-priest,’ because they are always vain… [This kind of priest] does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ! He has lost the unction: he is smarmy.”

    . And so [we see] all these figures… priest-wheeler dealers, priest-tycoons

    Now we know what happens when priests don’t have the smell of sheep. They become smarmy!!! Either way I guess priests smell to high heaven!

    Perhaps Francis has an aesthetics of smell rather than of vestments.

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