The Pope has said that ‘holier than thou’ believers unwilling to “get their hands dirty” and help others are only “superficial” Christians.

Driving the news

In an interview on Italian TV, a preview of which was released last week, Francis chided “oh-so-clean Christians that have all the truth, orthodoxy, the true doctrine, and are incapable of getting their hands dirty to help someone get up”.

“When I see these Christians I say: but you’re not Christians, you’re theists with Christian holy water, you haven’t yet arrived at Christianity”, the Pope said.

Go deeper

Francis was speaking with Father Marco Pozza, an Italian prison chaplain and theologian, on the Italian Bishops’ TV station TV2000.

The Pope and Pozza have already engaged in series of interviews for TV broadcast on the “Our Father” and “Ave Maria” prayers, but this time the pair were talking in a new eight-part series on the Creed.

In the Apostles’ Creed, one of the Church’s key statements of faith, Catholics profess that Christ “descended into hell”.

That’s the justification Francis turned to to deplore the attitude of “pure” Christians who refuse to dirty their hands with reality.

“If God got his hands dirty and descended to our hell, our hells, we must follow in his footsteps”, the Pope said.

“If someone says ‘No, I can’t’, it’s okay, but you haven’t come to be a Christian, you’re a Christian halfway, a superficial Christian, not even a Christian.

The all-too-pure believer might be “a man who believes in God, has clear ideas about redemption and… knows that Satan exists, but he stops at the gate of hell: he makes calculations”, Francis explained.

Why it matters

Francis also explained to Pozza in the new TV2000 interview that faith is something altogether different to an ideology.

“Sometimes there are theories that present us with an abstract God, an ideological God, an idea, and which prove the existence of God as if it were mathematics.

“The saints, on the other hand, understood what it is to believe in a God who is Father and not in a God-Mandrake [a comic-strip magician – ed.], with a magic wand”, the Pope explained.

Against the idea that the reality of God can be expressed in an ideology, the Pope insisted once again on the importance of transmitting the faith “in dialect”, the language of “love”.

“Think of the Maccabee mother: the biblical text says three times that she spoke to the seven martyred children in dialect”, Francis explained.

“Faith must be transmitted in that language which belongs to the family, which belongs to the people who draw near to you in love, a language different from an intellectual language”, the Pope said.

For the record

Other topics the Pope tackled in his new interview with Pozza included the Devil, faith, worldliness, excess in the Church, ecclesial movements, the mafia and politics.

Francis also dived into topics as diverse as populism, the Nuovi Orizzonti (“New Horizons”) Catholic social justice movement, the Church in Thailand and Korea and the legend of the ‘Our Lady of the Mandarins’, venerated as the “Patroness of thieves” in the south of Italy.

In his conversation with Pozza, the Pope also denounced “the persecution of Christianity” in the world today, explaining that “Christianity is persecuted, there is a process that wants to destroy it because Christianity is a threat”.

“It’s the threat of the leaven to the flour… it’s a threat”, Francis insisted.

But then again, “the history of Christianity is a history of persecutions”, the Pope recalled, adding that “Christianity does not live by success”, but rather by the “Christian truth” that is “the perseverance of Christians, perseverance against worldliness, in worldliness”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.