In biblical studies, there are two similar-sounding terms of particular importance: exegesis and eisegesis. Exegesis is defined as “an explanation or critical interpretation of a text,” and is the standard method of examining and understanding the Scriptures. Eisegesis, on the other hand, is “the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text.”
In today’s homily, Pope Francis engaged, as is often the case, in the latter. And just as he has accused the Blessed Mother of wanting to call God a “liar” when faced with the suffering of her Son — twice — he is now preaching that St. John the Baptist doubted the identity of Jesus while in prison:
Although John was great, strong, secure in his vocation, “he still had dark moments,” he had his doubts,” said Francis. In fact, John began to doubt in prison, even though he had baptized Jesus, “because he was a Saviour that was not as he had imagined him.” And so he sent two of his disciples to ask Him if He was the Messiah. And Jesus corrects the vision of John with a clear response. In fact, He tells them to report to John that “the blind see,” “the deaf hear,” “the dead rise.” “The great can afford to doubt, because they are great,” the Pope said.
It is indeed certain, that he who as forerunner proclaimed Christ’s coming, as prophet knew Him when He stood before him, and worshipped Him as Confessor when He came to him, could not fall into error from such abundant knowledge. Nor can it be believed that the grace of the Holy Spirit failed him when thrown into prison, seeing He should hereafter minister the light of His power to the Apostles when they were in prison.
The great biblical scholar, St. Jerome, adds:
Therefore he does not ask as being himself ignorant. But as the Saviour asks where Lazarus is buried, [margin note John 11:23] in order that they who shewed Him the sepulchre might be so far prepared for faith, and believe that the dead was verily raised again—so John, about to be put to death by Herod, sends his disciples to Christ, [p. 406] that by this opportunity of seeing His signs and wonders they might believe on Him, and so might learn through their master’s enquiry.
St. John Chrysostom offers:
Yet whilst John was with them he held them rightly convinced concerning Christ. But when he was going to die, he was more concerned on their behalf. For he feared that he might leave his disciples a prey to some pernicious doctrine, and that they should remain separate from Christ, to whom it had been his care to bring all his followers from the beginning.
And St. Hilary again concludes:
John then is providing not for his own, but his disciples’ ignorance; that they might know that it was no other whom he had proclaimed, he sent them to see His works, that the works might establish what John had spoken; and that they should not look for any other Christ, than Him to whom His works had borne testimony.
No, Your Holiness. St. John the Baptist did not doubt.
Francis, of course, has his own gloss on the text — predicated upon his eisegesis — and it is entirely unsurprising:
The great can afford to doubt, and this is beautiful. They are certain of their vocation but each time the Lord makes them see a new street of the journey, they enter into doubt. ‘But this is not orthodox, this is heretical, this is not the Messiah I expected.’ The devil does this work, and some friend also helps, no? This is the greatness of John, a great one, the last of that band of believers that began with Abraham, that one that preaches conversion, that one that does not use half-words to condemn the proud, that one that at the end of his life is allowed to doubt. And this is a good program of Christian life.” [emphasis added]
As is so often the case with Francis, he passive aggressively uses the occasion of commentary on the scriptures, or various anecdotes, to fire thinly veiled assaults at his critics and opponents. Make no mistake: his commentary on Matthew 11 has been weaponized and aimed at the authors and supporters of the dubia. Which is, perhaps, why irony meters around the world today exploded when Francis said this of St. John the Baptist:
He preached forcefully, he said some ugly things to the Pharisees, to the doctors of the law, to the priests, he didn’t say to them: “But dear friends, behave yourselves!” No. He said to them simply: “You race of vipers!” He didn’t use nuance. Because they approached in order to inspect him and to see him, but never with open hearts: “Race of vipers!” He risked his live, [sic] yes, but he was faithful. Then to Herod, to his face, he said, “Adulterer! It is not licit for you to live this way, adulterer!” To his face! But it is certain that if a pastor today said in the Sunday homily, “Among you there are some who are a race of vipers, and there are many adulterers,” certainly the Bishop would receive disconcerting letters: “But send away this pastor who insults us.” And he insulted them. Why? Because he was faithful to his vocation and to the truth. [emphasis added]
He’s toying with us. He must be. Nobody can be this devoid of self-awareness.
And speaking of eisegesis: for the record, Your Holiness? The miracle of the loaves and the fishes was a real miracle, too.