Recently my wife started a text group with family members and introduced the group as a place where we can discuss the two things we have been told never to discuss in polite company: religion and politics. The conversation quickly turned to the politics of Pope Francis and whether popes should be political or not.
This spawned the following thoughts. While I agree with the premise that Francis has been very political, I don’t think that is the problem most traditionalists have with him. John Paul II and Benedict XVI could be political in their writings and teachings but did not warrant conservative scorn. Rather, it is Francis’ ideology that is troublesome.
Here is the difference as I see it. Politics and ideology are often used synonymously but they are not synonyms in the least. The word politics comes from the Greek polis, or city, and is used in the sense of the administration of a body of people (i.e., the power to apply policy).
Ideology, comes from the Greek root idea, a form or pattern, which it shares with the word ideal. So an ideology is a view of the world in an ideal, perfect, or preferred form. One might say it is a utopian view of the world. Attaining ideals is often the aim of policy.
With these defined, one now understands politics (power) can be used to attempt an ideal world/society (ideology) and it cannot be the other way around. An idea is nothing without legitimate and authoritative power to enforce it.
This can be seen through Christian history: the apostles struggled with the Pharisee’s, the conversion of Rome and the growth of Christianity, the Holy Roman Empire (where the Church exercised power through legitimate governments), Luther’s “Protest” to the German government which gave us Protestantism, and even in the rise and fall of Judeo-Christian western civilization more recently. The Christian religion was intricately involved with politics throughout its history.
All this is simply to say that every last man on Earth should know of policy at a minimum and ought to be involved in some way with politics. Even the Pope! The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this in detail in paragraph 1897 and following.
As it is a moral imperative to partake in politics, it is not intrinsically evil. There can be a moral politics/policy and an immoral politics/policy. However there cannot be a moral ideology, as it pertains to the political order, for an ideal society is by nature utopian. And if Christianity teaches one thing about politics, it is that we, as fallen creatures, cannot obtain a utopian world. Our utopia is the Glory of God in the next life. Hence we Earth-bound Catholics are the Church Militant and can never be the Church Triumphant! Politics should be employed not to gain a worldly utopia. Instead, policy should strive to direct societies to act within the bounds of human nature in adherence to the moral law.
Everyone should be political at their own level. Traditionalists’ strife with Francis is not political. It is ideological. It is not that he exercises power to influence the world. It is that he is employing politics to gain an ideal world.