Two Popes = Two Churches?
It is true that some of what we read in the Sacred Scriptures contain themes that are echoed in our world and Church today, evidenced by Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
Around 50 AD, towards the end of his second journey, Paul founded the church in Corinth, before moving on to Ephesus, the west coast of today's Turkey, about 180 miles by sea from Corinth. It was while staying in Ephesus that he received disconcerting news of the community in Corinth regarding jealousies, rivalry, and immoral behavior. The congregation there was requesting clarification on a number of pertinent matters.
Paul wrote his letter to correct what he saw as erroneous views in the Corinthian church. Several sources informed Paul of the conflicts. In response to the claims: “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ” Paul wrote, urging uniformity of belief and expounding Christian doctrine because divisions within the church at Corinth have become a problem.
We see that this idea of “uniformity” has been an issue from the very beginning. The source of our unity is precisely the death and resurrection that we experience with Christ in our baptism, not our particular leaning in the faith. The source of all of this is Christ’s death on a cross, which looks like foolishness to the world and to the secular value system.
Then and now, we know that a divided church is one which has yet to die completely to the dominant values surrounding it, and subsequently, remain unable to embrace the radical reality ushered in by Christ.
Perhaps this is why I am intrigued by the release of the movie The Two Popes, a 2019 biographical drama film directed by Fernando Meirelles and written by Anthony McCarten, adapted from McCarten's 2017 play The Pope. The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis).
While the performances of Pryce and Hopkins, as well as McCarten's screenplay, received high praise from critics, I wonder whether there is a more profound truth here than meets the eye – not necessarily in the film’s plot and main characters, but in the hearts of today’s believers.
Netflix summarizes in these words, the film shows “a key turning point for the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI forms a surprising friendship with the future Pope Francis. Inspired by true events.” While one can decide for oneself where the true inspiration begins and ends, there is surely one truth that is evident: the Church today is also challenged by division – under whatever labels you prefer.
As a body of contemporary believers united in Christ through baptism, we are called to remember that we belong to Christ, never anything else, especially anything that divides us - and that belonging to Christ is what should unify us. That unity challenges us to figure out how to live together today as a community of faith in light of the Gospel.
While today we experience an historical reality of the presence of one active and one retired Pope, we are reminded that there is only one Church, founded by Christ, that unites all believers by their baptism to his death and resurrection. As we live that reality, I pray we join our hearts and voices despite our differences, not only to get along, but to take our rightful place in society to work for justice, peace and dignity for all God's people each in our own way.