VATICAN CITY — When Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, offered his weekly Lenten meditation to the pope and members of the curia Friday, he put his finger on a mystery involving a medieval monk, Italian bloggers and President Barack Obama.
Father Cantalamessa was discussing the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit in a talk about the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of both individuals and the church. But as a bit of background to his main point, he said:
The fact that the newly elected president of the United States, during his electoral campaign, referred to Joachim da Fiore three times has re-ignited interest in the doctrine of this medieval monk. Few of those who discuss him, especially on the Internet, know or bother to learn exactly what this author said. Every idea about the renewal of the church or of the world is casually attributed to him, including the idea of a new Pentecost for the church invoked by John XXIII.
One thing is certain. Whether or not it is attributed to Joachim da Fiore, the idea of a third Age of the Spirit that would succeed that of the Father in the Old Testament and of Christ in the New Testament is false and heretical because it strikes at the very heart of the dogma on the Trinity. The affirmation of Gregory Nazianzen is completely different. He distinguishes between three phases in the revelation of the Trinity: in the Old Testament, the Father is fully revealed and the Son is promised and proclaimed; in the New Testament, the Son is full revealed and the Spirit is promised and proclaimed; in the age of the church, the Holy Spirit is finally fully known and one rejoices in its presence.
But the only problem is that no one can seem to find any proof that as a candidate Obama actually cited Joachim of Fiore, who lived 1135-1202. There are dozens of Italian bloggers and Web sites that say Obama did, but the assertion cannot be backed up by an actual quote in an actual speech. In fact, the Joachim fan page on Facebook includes a link to Obama’s Aug. 28 speech accepting the nomination at the Democratic National Convention; a tag says that’s the speech that includes three references to Joachim. But it doesn’t.
In an e-mail message this afternoon, Father Cantalamessa told me, “Typing ‘Obama Gioacchino da Fiore’ (the monk’s name in Italian) in Google, you will find all the news on which I based my remarks.”
In fact, I did that Friday when I first read Father Cantalamessa’s meditation, but since I couldn’t find any real proof that Obama had cited Joachim as an inspiration for his vision of a changed world order, I simply wrote about Father Cantalamessa’s main points.
Getting back to Obama and Joachim this morning, it appears most of the results that turn up in the Google search cite an Aug. 28 or 29 article in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. But searching the newspaper’s Web site, no such article comes up.
The only thing I could think to do next was contact the most serious organization dedicated to studying and promoting the writings of Joachim, the International Center for Joachimist Studies. When I asked if they knew when Obama mentioned Joachim, a spokeswoman told me, “Everyone asks us, but we have no information and we don’t know how this got started. We don’t have on hand any information showing if or when he cited Joachim.”