POPE FRANCIS.  The Works of Mercy.  Foreword by James Keenan.  Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2017. pp. 190.  $16 pb. ISBN 9781626982369.  Originally published as Le Opere di Misercordia.  Compiled by Giuseppe Merola.  Cittá del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2016.Reviewed by James Bretzke BRETZKE, SJ, Boston College School of Theology & Ministry, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467.


This is a difficult book to “review” as it is not a standard or sustained theological treatise on the topic of mercy, nor is it an integrated or sequential presentation of Pope Francis’ own writings on this subject.  Originally published in Italian the selections were made by Giuseppe Merola who has compiled similar offerings of the Pope’s writing on the topic of priests and bishops.  The current volume is organized in two major parts─first a general collection of short selections drawn the Pope’s various homilies, messages, and speeches that contain some remarks on mercy.  The second part continues this approach, but does provide an organization in terms of the fourteen Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  The final chapter titled “Blessed Are the Merciful” provides the longest selection, and this is excerpted from Pope Francis’ Misericordiae vultus, the 2015 Bull of Induction for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.A foreword by moral theologian James Keenan gives a recapitulation of that person’s own work on mercy and virtues, though there is not much explicit connection made with the papal selections which follow. 

So readers will be disappointed if they are hoping to find an exposition of the theology of mercy, akin to Cardinal Walter Kasper’s 2012 Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life─a work that the Pope himself praised.  Likewise, if one is looking for a sustained treatment of Pope Francis’ own theology of mercy a better choice remains the 2016 The Name of God Is Mercy: A Conversation with Andrea Tornielli.  So with those caveats, what role might this current volume play? 

I would suggest it would be a very good resource for a lectio divina and perhaps in that mode it might serve as an excellent “tutor” of the many-faceted aspects of mercy─both divine and human.  While certainly Pope Francis’ words here are both edifying and thought-provoking there is a danger in this genre of publication to treat the Pontiff as a sort of timeless oracle dispensing wisdom on the topic of mercy.  There is really no effort made to contextualize where the selections come from, apart from listing where they first appeared, and the impression could be left that an Angelus Address stands in equal authority to a papal Encyclical─a mistaken approach toward the papal magisterium that the Church itself has tried to correct (cf. Lumen gentium #25 which states that in gauging the proper obsequium religiosum to be accorded to magisterial teaching we must attend carefully to its character, manner, and frequency. 

Certainly the current volume does confirm the “frequency” of Pope Francis’ treatment of the theme of mercy, though we will have to await for another work to integrate this with the content and manner criteria in an exposition that would aid us in better applying Pope Francis’ contributions to the various aspects of our contemporary world that are touched upon in these selections.