The following comes to us from Alan Jacobs.

There are many things you could say about Pope Pius XIII, AKA Lenny Belardo. You could say that is he a saint. You could say that he is a con artist. You could say that he is a man of great humility, who wants to become “the invisible Pope” because, as he says, Christ is everything and he is nothing; you could say that he is a man of titanic arrogance, because he knows that achieving invisibility would be a masterpiece of brand management. (Immediately after saying that Christ is everything and he is nothing, he compares himself to J. D. Salinger, Banksy, and Daft Punk, artists who, by keeping themselves out of the public eye, cloak themselves in fascinating mystery.)

But there is one thing that you can’t plausibly say about this young pope, and, strangely enough, it’s the thing that people commenting on the HBO series most often say about him. You can’t plausibly say that he is a “theological conservative” — at least, not if the theology at question is Christian.

In his first speech as Pope, Pius — theatrically backlit, a silhouette — shouts to the enormous crowd in St. Peter’s Square, “God exists. And he isn’t interested in us until we become interested in him — in him exclusively.” But this is the precise opposite of the Christian message. St. Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God has always been and will always be more interested in us than we are in Him. Demand interest in Him exclusively? No. He’ll settle for a speck of faith as tiny as a mustard seed.

Much later in the series, speaking over a loudspeaker to a great mass of people in an African nation that has been riven by war, Pius tells them he will not speak to them about God until there is peace in their land. “Give me peace, and I’ll give you God.” But this is to say that they must earn God through their own labors, that they must overcome all that afflicts them and then receive God as a kind of reward for their exemplary behavior. Pius’s God helps those who help themselves; he is Benjamin Franklin’s God, not the God of Jesus Christ the righteous, an advocate with the Father for those who sin. This young pope does not bring rest to those who are heavily burdened with the weight of sin; like one of the “lawyers” Jesus denounces, he himself loads burdens upon the people and doesn’t lift a finger to ease them.

Pope Pius XIII isn’t a “theologically conservative” Christian; he is a moral rigorist. He is a demander, a burdener. He offers no mercy because he wants to create a world of morally successful people who need no mercy.

At the end of the tenth and last episode of The Young Pope, Pius XIII collapses and looks dimly towards Heaven, which is where, it seems, he is about to go. But, it turns out, he doesn’t die. He falls into a coma, and a new pope is eventually elected. We’ll see whether this new pope knows what the Gospel of Jesus Christ actually is.