Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Everything You Need to Know About the Franciscan Polyhedron

Are you sure Catholics can't work in
the Illuminati or Masons?
NOTE: In acknowledgement of Esquire picking up this old article on Pope Francis' polyhedron, the Bear thought he would bump it to the top. Apparently Pope Francis rolled out the ol' polyhedron again, in the context of the good kind of globalization. (Obviously the Bear's article was the only one the search engine turned up on "pope francis polyhedron.")

The Bear does not want his friends to be confused the next time the Pope talks about how the Church is not a boring old sphere, but a fascinating polyhedron. The Bear has scoured the internet for an easy-to-understand and remember explanation for those of us not quite up on our sacred geometry. It all goes back to Plato, who made the modern role-playing industry possible by inventing polyhedrons.

At some point, geometry became involved with mysticism. Johannes Kepler, in his 1619 book Harmonices Mundi included a complex illustration showing the occult elemental correspondences: tetrahedron and fire, octahedron and air, cube and earth, icosohedron and water and, fifthly and finally, dodecahedron and ether, or cosmos. The fact that there are only five possible Platonic solids and five traditional elements proved too great a coincidence for occultists and mystics to ignore.

St. Augustine was familiar with the mystical elements of Platonism and they survived well into the Renaissance, and even until today in occult circles.

At Caserta, Pope Francis employed the polyhedron in an ecumenical sense.

We are in the age of globalization, and we wonder what globalization is and what the unity of the Church would be: perhaps a sphere, where all points are equidistant from the center, all are equal? No! This is uniformity. And the Holy Spirit does not create uniformity! What figure can we find? We think of the polyhedron: the polyhedron is a unity, but with all different parts; each one has its peculiarity, its charism. This is unity in diversity. It is on this path that we, Christians, do what we call with the theological name of ecumenism. We try to have this diversity become more harmonized by the Holy Spirit and become unity.

When Pope Francis says that the Church is not a sphere, but a polyhedron, it is to be hoped he is saying that the Church is not made up of perfectly uniform and indistinguishable elements, but individual faces with their own, unique identities. It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that the visible Church is one of these faces along with Protestant denominations, in some more extensive and all-inclusive structure that exists by virtue of the Holy Spirit's love of "diversity." However, as we watch the continuing revelation of Franciscan theology, we may come to better understand exactly how the Pope conceives of the Church he leads.

After you understand them, sit back, relax and watch the second one, which is quite hypnotic and soothing. Perhaps you will understand everything at last.


  1. From a meeting last November with the superiors of religious orders:

    “Great changes in history were realized when reality was seen not from the center but rather from the periphery. It is a hermeneutical question: reality is understood only when it is looked at from the periphery, and not when our viewpoint is equidistant from everything. Truly to understand reality we need to move away from the central position of calmness and peacefulness and direct ourselves to the peripheral areas. Being at the periphery helps to see and to understand better, to analyze reality more correctly, to shun centralism and ideological approaches.

    It is not a good strategy to be at the center of a sphere. To understand we ought to move around, to see reality from various viewpoints. We ought to get used to thinking. I often refer to a letter of Father Pedro Arrupe, who had been General for the Society of Jesus. It was a letter directed to the Centros de Investigación y Acción Social (CIAS). In this letter Father Arrupe spoke of poverty and said that some time of real contact with the poor is necessary. This is really very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people. If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy.”

    My apologies for the long quote. The Holy Father is not known for his concision.

    The polyhedron metaphor seems to work on more than one level. At the most accessible level, the "center" is that place of material and mental comfort which we need to leave in order to minister to those in need at the "peripheries". But in light of the pope's recent ecumenical efforts, we could also see the "center" as that privileged place the Catholic Church used to occupy, back when she believed she was the One True Church founded by Christ. When she alone occupied the center, she could observe the comings and goings of empires and intellectual fashions, hold them up to the light for evaluation, and (after several decades or centuries) issue measured assessments of their worth, distinguishing the good from the bad in order to provide necessary guidance to her little ones.

    But it turns out that that was "not a good strategy". Reality can't, after all, be properly understood from the center. So the Church must give up her privileged isolation at the center and move out to become one point among many on the surface of the polyhedron, valuable in its own way but not inherently more so than any other point.

    I'm trying not to be too tendentious here, but it does often seem like this is his vision for the Church: to become one more (indistinguishable?) point among thousands.

  2. Pope Francis has used the polyhedron analogy at different times, and in different contexts. I have added the exact language from the Caserta speech to show him using it in an explicitly ecumenical way. Where that puts the Church is an excellent question. Is the Church the polyhedron, made up of separate faces? If so, that is not a bad image.

    But if the Church is just one face on some greater polyhedron that includes Baptists, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, etc. then we have a significant issue with papal ecclesiology.

  3. There's a risk of over-interpreting the polyhedron image, but as you say, it's one of the pope's favorites.

    I don't think the Church can be the polyhedron, since polyhedrons are self-contained, and we know how the Holy Father feels about that. If that were the meaning, how would the Church polyhedron interact fruitfully with other bodies? No, if anything, I think the Caserta quote you bolded makes his meaning pretty clear:

    We think of the polyhedron: the polyhedron is a unity, but with all different parts; each one has its peculiarity, its charism. This is unity in diversity. It is on this path that we, Christians, do what we call with the theological name of ecumenism.

    The unity is the body of Christian believers. The diversity is in the peculiarities and charisms of each member. And the goal of ecumenism is to have this unity in diversity bear fruit through recognizing the gifts brought by each. The story about the priest and the lapsed Catholic woman buttresses this interpretation.

    But take heart, Bear. The polyhedron--at least in these remarks--appears not to include Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, etc.

    1. I believe your interpretation is correct. The Catholic Church is one facet among many, many. Who are we to say our facet is legitimate and theirs is not? All we can do is dialogue from our individual Happy Places as the the diverse sparks of life from the Kabbalistic vessel, smashed, are free to work back into the Supernal Unity of the One.

      Personally, the polyhedron analogy is good if you understand it to be the Church, but stinks the way we both know it is being used.

    2. A couple of further thoughts occurred to me this morning.

      One of the defining rhetorical devices of this papacy is the setting up of dichotomies: pastoral or dogmatic; justice or mercy; proselytism or attraction; the Spirit or the intellect; the center or the peripheries. And so on.

      But there's no reason the Church can't inhabit both the center and the peripheries. Her magisterium inhabits that very "central position of calmness and peacefulness"; that is, the timeless realm of unchanging and unchangeable truth, from which she can observe the whole sweep of history. And to the extent that she needs to develop or re-present prior teachings to to respond to new developments, she must even engage in--horrors!--self-referentiality.

      But the Church also exists on the fluid and ever-changing peripheries, where missionaries evangelize, the poor are ministered to, and ordinary parish life takes place. And here, we must talk to others, accompany them (however that's defined), and try to find common ground.

      But it makes no sense for the peripheries to say to the center, we have no need of thee, or for the center to say to the peripheries, I have no need of you. Without a center, the peripheries have no grounding, no fixed point of reference to which they are oriented. They just become a formless mass of points or surfaces. And a center without peripheries is no center at all, its existence pointless.

      I know I'm belaboring this, but the Holy Father brings up the polyhedron analogy again and again, so it's worth looking into. But the more I look into it, the less sense it makes. Why set complementary or harmonious things in opposition to each other? Whence the (apparently) populist denigrations of critical aspects of the Church's identity? How are we actually to apply these baffling dichotomies and opaque exhortations to our lives as we actually live them?

    3. I don't think you are belaboring it, but I think you are trying harder to make sense of it than Pope Francis is! As someone who knows a thing or two about speaking, I notice that when he gives his homilies he sticks to a three-point scheme with lots of memorable concrete imagery. They're good. But when he attempts something more (which he probably shouldn't) he rambles. It is almost as if the great populist has a head filled with impenetrable South American jargon.

      Seriously, who talks about polyhedrons other than an egghead who lacks the common touch? And let's face it, few men in their seventies are able to link thoughts together off the cuff like they used to.

      I have called him The Oracle of Santa Marta because we are constantly left to decipher his vague utterances. This is so bad for the Church.

  4. I enjoyed the first video, but found the second seriously disturbing. Not sure why - but if that explains everything I do NOT want to understand.

  5. Archbishop Fulton Sheen: “Who is going to save our Church? Not our Bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops and your religious act like religious”

  6. Yes Bear, the sacraments will be invalidated. The abomination of desolation is when the mass is not valid by change of it. The other sacraments will follow. I opine that it could be shortly after the synod or definitely in 2016.

  7. Darny darn. The vids won't come up on my phone.

    Why do we always have to work so dang hard at understanding what Francis is saying? Does he even know what he's trying to say?

    Seattle kim

  8. P.S. My vote is for the Nostra Aetate interpretation of the polyhedron. But Francis will leave it vague so conservative Pollyanna papists can interpret it in a way that helps them sleep better.

    Seattle Kim

  9. Mother of God's words to Sister Agnes at Akita, October 13, 1973:

    ". . . if men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never have seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by my Son. Each day recite the prayers of the Rosary. With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and the priests."

  10. My ipad thing didn't show anything to look at, but the comments made me picture a hurricane (calm in the eye of the storm while heavy winds and rains pelt the periphery)

  11. This is pretty sad when philology or form is more important than content or intention. Francis' practical theology is dumb proof because it can be understand even by poor and illiterate people in the Third World. Just as Christ adjusted his speech to simple fisherman and peasants. Of course, he was understood for those people but not by the Temple priests. Moral of the history: Jesus was just an "Oracle of Nazareth" mumbling rural stories, so doctrine police-watcher kill him for doctrinal and linguistic vagueness.

    1. Well, my point (writing in my previous incarnation as mgl, above) was that the content and intention are entirely opaque--though now, some 15 months further on, we are in a far better position to infer the Holy Father's meaning, and none of it is good news.

  12. Amazing post! I think my comment didn't get published because Blogger messed up the sign in; so, if at some point there are two comments of mine, please feel free to delete one of them ;)

    In that previous comment I just wrote that there is definitely something occult underneath that reference to the polyhedron. I also wrote that this is a great article because almost no one wrote about this hermetic symbol that Francis used on a few occasions.

    Also, I posted this video which, at minute 14:00, shows Francis speaking of this polyhedron:

    Great article!

    1. I tend to take the polyhedron at face value, i.e. globalization is bad if it creates a sphere that is the same at all points, but good if it creates a generally globe-like object where each country, culture, religion, whatever, enjoys its own little flat area that is distinct and unique. Now, what this has to do with anything the Pope might legitimately be addressing, I have no idea. It is another one of his idiosyncratic, non-Christian ideas expressed in his habitual vague language that invites listeners to interpret them any way they wish.

      A much more recent post makes the same point that Francis is loved by the world. Jesus spoke about this at length throughout the Gospel of John. Jesus and his followers are not of the world. The world loves its own. If you have a pope loved by the world, he deserves a second look. If you have a pope who is loved by the world because he apparently is focused on and agrees with the world, you have a big problem.

      Ultimately, Christianity is a supernatural religion that looks to heaven, and eternity. Of course, our life is also a school of love, and we must express the love of Christ. However, gestures and concessions and global initiatives are not the way we do that. Again, this is how the world views life. It is decidedly non-Christian.

      I purposely avoid calling Francis an anti-pope, false prophet, beast, etc. I always prefer a non-supernatural explanation when it covers all the bases. Francis is awful. He is not very bright, and has an inferiority complex (to my eyes, anyway). Does he believe in the Catholic Faith? No, not as it has been understood historically. Is he a Christian? I think he views Christianity as a particularly Western expression of religion, but does not view it as inherently superior to Judaism or Islam or any other religion. Above all, he wants to be liked by all the right people, and to show that Argentina can create the most special man in the world, just as it produced the most special woman in the world.


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