On Monday, Pope Francis ended a five-day visit to Greece by giving advice to students at a Catholic school that hinted at idolatry.
Greek Sirens: Half bird and half woman
“Today’s sirens want to charm you with seductive and insistent messages that focus on easy gains, the false needs of consumerism, the cult of physical wellness, of entertainment at all costs,” he said. “All these are like fireworks: they flare up for a moment, but then turn to smoke in the air.”
The ‘sirens’ the pope is referring to are pagan gods from Greek mythology. Half bird and half woman, the sirens were described in Homer’s Odyssey as luring sailors to destruction by the sweetness of her song. They were variously said to be the daughters of the sea god Phorcys or of the river god Achelous by one of the Muses.
Pope Francis urged the young students to resist the temptation of materialism posed by the “sirens” who “by their songs enchanted sailors and made them crash against the rocks.”
The pope recommended to the students to not act as Odysseus in the Greek fable, who resisted the sirens by tying himself to his ship’s mast. Pope Francis advised the students to imitate the legendary Greek poet and musician Orpheus, who overcame them by singing a better song.
Apollo’s Temple of Delphi
In his address, Pope Francis made yet another reference to Greek paganism.
“Do you remember the famous words inscribed on the entrance of the temple of Delphi? ‘Know thyself,’” The Pope said. “Today we run the risk of forgetting who we are, obsessed with putting on a thousand appearances.”
Pope Francis has been criticized in the past for what seemed to be a disturbing tolerance of idolatry. In 2019, five small statues of Amazonian fertility idols called Pachamama at a prayer service held by Pope Francis in the Vatican gardens on the eve of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. They display generated consternation and the statues were stolen from a display in Rome’s Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina and dumped in the Tiber, apparently by militant Catholic conservatives who objected to the incorporation of idolatry into the church ceremony. The temple at Delphi was dedicated to the Greek pagan god Apollo.
The references by the pope to Greek mythology are disturbing as Greek mythology is an element of idolatry, a word derived etymologically from Greek. The ancient Greeks were polytheistic idolators who preferred human forms, with idealized proportions, for divine representation.
Catholic Church: Struggling with idolatry
The Catholic Church has been criticized by other religions for its use of icons and idols. This theologically problematic practice is defended in the Catechism of the Church which states, “Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate.”
Perhaps even more disturbing than these brushes with idolatry was a revelation made by Rev. Gabriel Amorth in a 2010 interview with ABC News. As the chief exorcist for the Vatican for over 25 years, Amorth treated over 70,000 cases of demonic possession.
“The devil is not everywhere,” he told ABC News. “But when he is present it is painful.”
“The devil is pure spirit, invincible. He is shown with the painful blasphemies coming from the person which he possesses. He can stay hidden. He can speaks different languages. He can transform himself,” Amorth said.
Amorth identified the perpetrators of an assassination attempt targeting the pope in 1981 as being possessed by the devil.
“The devil resides in the Vatican,”Amorth said.
This was consistent with a bizarre statement made by Pope Paul VI in 1972 when he spoke about the “smoke of Satan” that hovered in the Vatican.