Rorate Caeli

A witty pope

From the first words of the letter sent by the new Pope to the Argentine bishops present at the 105th plenary assembly of their national Episcopal Conference:

I send these greeting lines, also to excuse myself for not being able to be present, due to "commitments undertaken recently" (does this sound good?) [sic] I am spiritually close to you, and I beg the Lord that he main join you strongly on these days.

[Source: Conferencia Episcopal Argentina, Apr. 17, 2013. Tip: Elisabetta Piqué on Twitter]


  1. Talking about wit, I really must present for the delectation of all Rorate Caeli readers a quite magnificent post from a mainstream Catholic with whom I have been arguing on another blog.

    I think what follows ought to be framed as possibly the maddest thing said by any Catholic since the 1962-65 Revolution: it really is marvellous!!

    I quote:

    "The manifestation of the gradual ascendancy of the Holy Spirit in the
    postwar period had its most tangible expression in Vatican II. Vatican
    II was both an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a recognition that the Holy Spirit had infiltrated those religions which hitherto had been antagonistic to the See of Peter. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit had begun his gradual infiltration of Soviet Russia preventing nuclear war and resulting several decades later in the fall of Communism."

    Benedict Carter

  2. This poor man is Pope, may he elevate himself to the office he has accepted. Levity is not appropriate. Are there any records of humor by Our Lord in the Gospels? I think not. Pray for Bergoglio, he needs all our prayers!

  3. I don't know...there are some times when I think our Lord is intending to be when he says to the people of John the Baptist, "What did you go out to see? A reed shaken by the wind?" Do you believe Jesus never laughed or demonstrated humor?

    There shouldn't be a problem with humor or levity per se, although we can debate the specific times in which it is appropriate.

  4. Anonymous12:20 PM

    LOL! Very clever :) God bless our Holy Father.

  5. Anonymous1:05 PM

    I've been critical of some of the things the pope has done (perhaps too critical) but I don't see a problem with this.

    A humorous quip to his old friends and associates seems entirely appropriate.

  6. This kind of humour is great!

  7. There is a legend (at least) that King St. Louis had St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure debate whether God has a sense of humor. Anyone know any more about this?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. This poor man is Pope, may he elevate himself to the office he has accepted. Levity is not appropriate. Are there any records of humor by Our Lord in the Gospels? I think not.

    Lighten up Francis!

  10. Anonymous1:23 PM

    Boniface: Christianity is a serious religion. Christianity is a war (Matt. 11:12), and war is not funny. The Pope's jocularity is not appropriate, and does not follow the example of the Lord, the Apostles, or the Fathers.

    "Let your laughter be turned to mourning." - St. James

    "There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks." - St. Paul

    "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall weep." - Jesus

    "And do you, a solitary, laugh at all and relax your countenance? thou that art crucified? thou that art a mourner? tell me, do you laugh? Where do you hear of Christ doing this? Nowhere: but that He was sad indeed oftentimes. For even when He looked on Jerusalem, He wept; and when He thought on the Traitor He was troubled; and when He was about to raise Lazarus, He wept; and do you laugh?" - St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Hebrews

    "The Christian...ought not to laugh nor even to suffer laugh makers." - St Basil, Letter 22

  11. I think a sharp wit and sense of humor to be essential to sanity.
    The holiest priests (and laymen) I know, have the keenest sense of humor.

    Yay Holy Father!

  12. A Pope can't have a sense of humor or make jokes? Is that person serious? Why not, even the Popes of the late 19th and earlier 20th century had a sense of humor. I have read biographies on Leo XII St Pius X and even Benedict XV and they had senses of humors. It is not improper or sinful or inappropriate for a Pope to have this trait. Yes they are the Vicars of Christ on earth but they are also only human.

  13. Levity is healthy and the sign of a joyful heart. Many saints have had good senses of humor. As Chesterton said, satan sell by the sin of gravity. Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

    Let us pray for our Pope, not belittle him.

  14. Ka,

    Was calling the sons of Zebedee "The Thunder Brothers" not humor?

    Joy is central to being a Catholic Christian.

  15. I thought it quite humorous. And not at all inappropriate, esp. as he is writing to old friends and acquaintances.

  16. I pity all those who say that a sense of humour and wit are not something a Christian should possess. You must be living some very sad lives and I wonder how many people will get put off from Christianity if they ever hear such opinions being expressed in the public.

    Take the example of some of the great saints. For example Sts John Bosco and Philip Neri had a great sense of humour. Does their behaviour scandalise you as well? As St Teresa of Avila once said: “God save us from gloomy saints!”

  17. The Christian faith teaches that God is a real, concrete person, not some intangible essence or esoteric mist like "god-spray," Pope Francis said.

    Now that is witty.

  18. Even animals have 'humor'. Just listen to the laughing kookaburra... and the laughing hyena... ;-) And don't forget the pet dog who wags his tail even when you make fun of him.

    Seriously, I think a little humor at the right moment with the right people is appropriate.

  19. Anonymous4:13 PM

    It is easy. Let us find humorous quotations in pre-Vatican II Papal letters (we are not talking about private conversations here).

  20. with respect, since humor is proper to humanity and Christ was fully human as well as fully divine, it can be assumed that he had a sense of humor.

    firstly, some of the hyperbole and irony of Jesus can be illustrative of his humor.
    a)when He tells the crowd that the person who is with out sin may cast the first stone is an example of humor.
    b) when He asks which is easier to say " 'your sins are forgiven' or 'take up your mat and walk'?"
    c)when He rebukes the pharisees for washing the outside of the cup while the inside is filthy and compares them to whitened sepulchers.
    d)when He tells the fishermen he will make them "fishers of men."
    e)after the resurrection He eats fish and drinks wine to prove he is not a ghost.
    f) when He offers his hand and his side to thomas after the resurrection.

    also, when nathaniel asks "can anything good come from nazareth?" Jesus does not rebuke him but instead praises him.

    additionally, st. paul fools around with words in ii corinthians.

    the old testament books of johnah and esther are humorous stories told for the edification of the reader.

    there are frequent exhortations to rejoice in sacred scripture.

    likewise the saints, whose lives are examples to the living, also used humor.

    st maurice when immersed in boiling water by the pagans complained that his bath was cold.

    st. lawrence of rome was being martyred by being cooked on the grill he said "turn me over, this side is done."

    st. francis of assisi was often given to laughter.

    st. thomas more asked to have his beard moved out from under his neck when he was beheaded because at least it hadn't committed treason.

    st. philip neri shaved off half of his beard to comic effect. he deliberately mispronounced words words while saying mass before a serious bishop, and claimed that a joke book was his spiritual reading. he also said "people can chop wood on my back as long as they don't sin."

    however, a puritanical hatred of jokes can be located in the writings of john calvin who says "i consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels."

  21. "It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes." - St. Thomas Aquinas

  22. I hope this isn't an inappropriate comment, but I highly recommend reading the rest of the letter His Holiness wrote to the Argentinian bishops. It is quite serious, and provides some food for thought!

  23. Anonymous5:39 PM

    I read where "Venerable Yorgi" writes in a comment above:

    "Levity is not appropriate. Are there any records of humor by Our Lord in the Gospels? I think not."

    and think that Saints James and John, the Boanerges, disagree!

  24. There are some great examples of Papal humour. Bl. John XXIII had a few, the best known one probably being when asked how many people worked in the Vatican he replied "Oh, about half." Bl. Pius IX, when asked for a blessing by a visiting party of High Anglican clergymen, replied with the words used in the blessing of incense at Mass. "Ab illo benedicaris in cuius honore cremaberis: May you be blessed by Him in whose honour you shall be burned."

  25. i really don't think it is witty. Since he seems to highlight his role as Bishop of Rome as often as he can then may be he is being perfectly serious when he says"commitments undertaken". Maybe this is all part of playing down the Papacy which seems to be his style. If so then this is a concern.

  26. Lord save us from long faced saints!

    St. Teresa of Avila

  27. I'm afraid this isn't remotely witty. It would have been if it weren't for the parenthesis, which is evidently in the original.

    As I have sometimes had to tell my sons: don't try too hard to be funny. If you have to try hard you know it isn't working. Popes, like the rest of us, ought to know their limitations.

  28. I remember in one of Ven. Sheens talks he mentioned that Leo XIII was asked to sign a portrait of himself that was not particularaly well done, so he signed it with the words from Jesus walking on water "Fear not it is I".

  29. Anonymous7:53 PM

    Interesting. It seems clear to me that the question is not about humor, but about the due gravity which should be found in official documents of the Holy Father. Having sense of humor is in no way against holiness. However, the problem is if papal official letters should contain humorous expressions or not, whether they are too casual, or appropriate for that occasion or not, if that is in accordance to what has always been the use of the Roman Pontiffs.

    Argentinians are known to be too informal, a Chilean priest who lived there told me.

    But we must accept what has always been done...

    Clericat? Non clericat?

    It is not about the liceity of good humour. It is about decorum, "papal decorum"?

  30. @UnamSanctam

    "The manifestation of the gradual ascendancy of the Holy Spirit in the postwar period had its most tangible expression in Vatican II. Vatican II was both an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a recognition that the Holy Spirit had infiltrated those religions which hitherto had been antagonistic to the See of Peter. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit had begun his gradual infiltration of Soviet Russia preventing nuclear war and resulting several decades later in the fall of Communism."

    This perfect example of what Dr Johnson called "unresisting imbecility" is indeed a classic.

  31. Here's more from Thomas, Q 168, article 2, from Summa:

    Just as man needs bodily rest for the body's refreshment, because he cannot always be at work, since his power is finite and equal to a certain fixed amount of labor, so too is it with his soul, whose power is also finite and equal to a fixed amount of work. Consequently when he goes beyond his measure in a certain work, he is oppressed and becomes weary, and all the more since when the soul works, the body is at work likewise, in so far as the intellective soul employs forces that operate through bodily organs. Now sensible goods are connatural to man, and therefore, when the soul arises above sensibles, through being intent on the operations of reason, there results in consequence a certain weariness of soul, whether the operations with which it is occupied be those of the practical or of the speculative reason. Yet this weariness is greater if the soul be occupied with the work of contemplation, since thereby it is raised higher above sensible things; although perhaps certain outward works of the practical reason entail a greater bodily labor. On either case, however, one man is more soul-wearied than another, according as he is more intensely occupied with works of reason. Now just as weariness of the body is dispelled by resting the body, so weariness of the soul must needs be remedied by resting the soul: and the soul's rest is pleasure, as stated above (I-II, 25, 2; I-II, 31, 1, ad 2). Consequently, the remedy for weariness of soul must needs consist in the application of some pleasure, by slackening the tension of the reason's study. Thus in the Conferences of the Fathers xxiv, 21, it is related of Blessed John the Evangelist, that when some people were scandalized on finding him playing together with his disciples, he is said to have told one of them who carried a bow to shoot an arrow. And when the latter had done this several times, he asked him whether he could do it indefinitely, and the man answered that if he continued doing it, the bow would break. Whence the Blessed John drew the inference that in like manner man's mind would break if its tension were never relaxed.

  32. "Non Angli sed Angeli." attributed to
    Pope Gregory I

  33. I can't help but remember something from St. Teresa of Avila's life, when she was thrown from her carriage into the mud and said to God, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few!" I imagine her saying that with a wry smile on her face, appreciating, in spite of her muddiness, the humor in the situation. I've walked into doors and flagpoles, sometimes when thinking a little too much of myself, and couldn't help but appreciate God's sense of humor.
    I don't mind the pope's witticism, and I'm glad he has a sense of humor. I honestly don't see what the big deal is with his use of humor (understatement) in a letter to other bishops.
    I'm a convert from Protestantism (or heathenism, to be more accurate), and I usually associate a lack of humor more with Protestant circles than with the Catholic Church.

  34. Anonymous6:02 PM

    I agree with the few previous posts that say there is little wit in the excerpt here. Additionally, the attempt at humour should probably be limited to verbal quips, and not to official papal documents. Does decorum not apply to written communications that then become official documents?

  35. Personally I think that the two best gifts that God has given us are Faith and a sense of humour .... life must indeed be hard without them!

    There have been times in my life where God has shown me that indeed He has a sense of humour....

    One such occassion was when my son was studying at the university in Sydney Australia .. he rang home to me in New Zealand quite concerned about an exam that he was to sit the next day as there was a section of study that he was not feeling comfortable about . I told him not to worry ...
    assured him of our prayers .." Fine" he said "but how can god get ut of my head what i have not put in ?" I told him that if he too said a prayer ,god would work it out.

    Next night I got a call from him ... the students had gone ito the exam room and had read the paper when the fire alarm went ... they all went out for a time . when they came back i he was able to do the first of the paper that was in two sections ... the fire alarm went again and they all went out once more .
    The professor having been told of the happenings, was waiting for them when they re-entered the room and told them that he could not expect them to sit answering the rest of the paper with one ear waiting for the fire alarm so he would mark them on the first part of the paper and on their years work! My son had his best ever marks for that exam!
    Coincidence i dont think... do you?

  36. Anonymous4:18 PM

    For all this Pope's pompous humility, he must be the least humble pope in centuries!


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