Last July 7, 2017 in the beginning of this month, Pope Francis gave a catechesis which illicited some controversies.
It was a good theme on the paternity of God as Father and the Pope emphasized the presence of God in our lives. The Audience took place at 9.20 a.m. in St. Peter’s Square, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and all over the world.
In his address in Italian the Pope focused on the theme “God’s paternity, wellspring of our hope” (cf. Lk 11: 1-4).
In explaining however towards the end of his catechesis, the Pope said something which could cause and in fact has done confusion in some of our catholics:
"Cari fratelli e sorelle, non siamo mai soli. Possiamo essere lontani, ostili, potremmo anche professarci “senza Dio”. Ma il Vangelo di Gesù Cristo ci rivela che Dio che non può stare senza di noi: Lui non sarà mai un Dio “senza l’uomo”; è Lui che non può stare senza di noi, e questo è un mistero grande! Dio non può essere Dio senza l’uomo: grande mistero è questo! E questa certezza è la sorgente della nostra speranza, che troviamo custodita in tutte le invocazioni del Padre nostro. Quando abbiamo bisogno di aiuto, Gesù non ci dice di rassegnarci e chiuderci in noi stessi, ma di rivolgerci al Padre e chiedere a Lui con fiducia. Tutte le nostre necessità, da quelle più evidenti e quotidiane, come il cibo, la salute, il lavoro, fino a quella di essere perdonati e sostenuti nelle tentazioni, non sono lo specchio della nostra solitudine: c’è invece un Padre che sempre ci guarda con amore, e che sicuramente non ci abbandona."
It is translated into English thus:
Dear brothers and sisters, we are never alone. We can be far, hostile; we can even say we are “without God.” But Jesus Christ’s Gospel reveals to us that God cannot be without us: He will never be a God “without man”; it is He who cannot be without us, and this is a great mystery! God cannot be God without man: this is a great mystery! And this certainty is the source of our hope, which we find kept in all the invocations of the Our Father. When we are in need of help, Jesus does not tell us to be resigned and to shut ourselves in ourselves, but to turn to the Father and to ask Him with trust. All our needs, the most evident and daily as food, health, work to that of being forgiven and sustained in temptations, are not the mirror of our solitude: instead, there is a Father who always looks at us with love, and who certainly does not abandon us.
Although he said God "will never be God 'without man''" he explained this paternity with the next statement that "God cannot be God without man." This second statement has created some uproar.
Truly it could be asserted that God has absolute liberty and could not be determined by any one. (Denz. 1655)
"If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing, or, shall have said that God created not by a volition free of all necessity, but as necessarily as He necessarily loves Himself, or, shall have denied that the world was created to the glory of God: let him be anathema." (First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius; Denz. 1783, 1805).
I do not pretend to be an apologist of the Pope nor am not capable to be one, but allow me to state:
First of all the approach of the Holy Father is pastoral by nature though of course it should be based on sound theology.
Secondly, the first statement that "God will never be God without man" which is in the future tense, is likely based on the fact of the Incarnation and on creation. That God opted to create man in His own image and likeness and He could do so since He is love and love could not be complete without the beloved; moreover, He made Himself incarnate in Jesus to reveal more His love.
In this, the Pope needs clarification. The covenant between God and man through His initiative which was concretized in Abraham and that has its apex in the incarnation are historical events which God in his absolute freedom, opted. Because of this Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it is likewise true that God remains eternally joined to mankind through the human nature of Jesus Christ, Second of the Three Divine Persons of The Most Blessed Trinity.
So God will always be God of man and with man. In this sense He cannot be God without man. In other words the Pope's statement in question should not be taken independently without any connection with the first true affirmation. The second, though might illicit other interpretations, is an added pastoral statement which the Pope intends to explain the first statement, namely: "God will never be without man."
Lastly, we need to focus more on the first statement of the Pope which is in fact true (and less the second one). Owing to the the revelation that God is love: He opted to love man through a covenant and this love is fully manifest once and for all in the incarnation of Christ, who is Love Himself through His passion, death and resurrection. God will always be with man for without man whom He loves, God may not be who He is as love. Let us allow God to be God as Pope Francis allows and wishes Him to be in our lives.